Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Palace of Illusions - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Rating: 5/10


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!! 

This book is one of the ten books I have scheduled to read for the South Asian Author Challenge.


Shweta said...

I realized one thing that you are like me in liking books or hating them .Not that we have same book tastes but Very Strong opinions LOL..

I loved the way you wrote this review but I stand by my opinion of the book. I really liked it. It was a wonderful attempt of telling Draupadi's tale. Ya , very Phillipa Gregory but she connects to the reader. And hoping for a epic just because it is based on a epic is a huge burden on a book.

Kals said...

LOL true, strong opinions indeed!

I think it's inevitable that expectations rise when you retell something as famous and wonderful as the Mahabharata. I still think this book had a lot of scope! It wasn't by any means bad, but not very good, in my opinion :)

A Buckeye Girl Reads said...

The cover on this is gorgeous, but I think I'll skip this one! I can't wait to begin your reading challenge. :)

Pradip Bhattacharya said...

you will find more satisfying Pratibha Ray's "Yajnaseni" (RUPA) which begins with Draupadi in her dying moments looking back at her life.

Kals said...

Colette: I've just started up with reading The Sign of Four. I hope you have fun! :)

Pradip Bhattacharya: Thanks for the recommendation. I'll try and check it out :)

vvb32 reads said...

I read Sister of My Heart awhile ago and enjoyed it. Been meaning to read Mistress of Spices as well. Too bad this one did not meet your expectations.

Kals said...

I think you will enjoy this book, because I presume you haven't read the Mahabharata before. This book is a good intro and short summary that will be fun to read for beginners I guess. But for me, who's read more detailed versions of the Mahabharata, it was a let down.

I suggest you give it a try anyway :)

Anonymous said...

I sort of agree with you but not completely. It is true that the Mahabharata is a very complex epic and its very difficult to capture its essence in such a short book. But this particular book is about Draupadi's views and feelings and her's alone. So, how complex the other characters or events need to be described in a limited way. Moreover, I think that any more detailing might have made the book verbose and difficult to read.


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