The Palace of Illusions is a re-telling of the Indian epic Mahabharata, from the point of view of Draupadi, the much-revered heroine of the tale. I had heard a lot of good things about this bestseller and so I went in with great expectations. Also, another book based on the Mahabharata, Shashi Tharoor's astoundingly brilliant The Great Indian Novel was always bound to come up in my mind as a scale for comparison. As I found out soon enough, The Palace of Illusions is disappointing.
The biggest problem I have with this book is that it adds little to the Mahabharata. Rather, it simplifies the tale way too much and trivializes the grand original. The Mahabharata is an epic, full of detail, full of complex characters and difficult situations, but The Palace of Illusions is too small a book to do justice to an epic.
Major scenes of great significance, like Draupadi's disrobing, are reduced to a few paragraphs. Characters and relationships aren't dealt with in detail and depend more on the reader's preexistent knowledge of the Mahabharata. Strangely, to me, Draupadi wasn't as fascinating a narrator as I thought she would be. With her as the narrator, one would expect a lot of insight and opinions on major events and characters, but that is not the case. The narrative meandering to the stories and points of views of other characters, plays spoilsport.
Divakaruni's style of writing reminded me of Philippa Gregory's books which is actually quite a good thing here. The book works best as a short summary of the great old epic of India. I'm left with a feeling that the premise of the book that holds a lot of promise, is left unfulfilled in the end.
If only the book was as grand, detailed and gorgeous as its beautiful cover!!