Book Review : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's "Palace of Illusions"

By Priya Rathnam

Draupadi is the narrator of this remarkable story and the author has infused her with a powerful, honest, introspective and humorous voice. Those familiar with the Indian epic Mahabharata will know that Draupadi is one of the central characters who plays an important role in the tale of the war of the clans to which the Pandavas and Kauravas belong. It is refreshing to see Draupadi's perspective and wonder with her if she could have done anything different to change the course of destiny. She experiences the gamut of human emotions from love and romantic desire to anger and the desire for vengeance and articulates them so distinctly that you empathize with her and can't condemn her. Kudos to Divakaruni for endowing Draupadi with a reflective and thoughtful side while also revealing her rash, spontaneous, vengeful, headstrong and passionate temperament.

The rest of the characters are beautifully drawn and, looking at the Pandavas from Draupadi's perspective makes the reader aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Yudhishtir is like the hero of a Greek tragedy whose many virtues are eulogized for posterity but who has one tragic flaw and that is his love for gambling. Duryodhan does not come across as the angry villain that he is depicted to be in most Indian retellings of the Mahabharata. What of Draupadi's feelings towards Karna? Is this Divakaruni's unique interpretation of the conflicting emotions of Draupadi and a spin on the traditional narration of the story?

A very satisfying story as the author touches upon most of the familiar myths and yet makes it appealing to the modern reader by her exploration of the various emotions that determine the actions of the characters. Most gratifying is the delineation of Draupadi's relationship with Krishna. She sees him as a friend and is annoyed with him when he gives enigmatic answers to her serious questions. She sees him as a harbinger of comfort when she is in distress and as a sounding board when she has to give vent to her frustrations and anger. And ultimately, she sees him as the one source of eternal comfort and bliss.

The success of a book is measured by its readability and this book is eminently readable as one is loath to put it down even if one knows the outcome of the story.

 


Priya Rathnam is a reference Librarian at the Shrewsbury Public Library. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.