A re-imagining of the world-famous Indian epic, the Mahabharat—told from the point of view of an amazing woman.
Relevant to today’s war-torn world, The Palace of Illusions takes us back to a time that is half history, half myth, and wholly magical. Narrated by Panchaali, the wife of the legendary Pandavas brothers in the Mahabharat, the novel gives us a new interpretation of this ancient tale.
The Palace of Illusions traces the princess Panchaali’s life, beginning with her birth in fire and following her spirited balancing act as a woman with five husbands who have been cheated out of their father’s kingdom. Panchaali is swept into their quest to reclaim their birthright, remaining at their sides through years of exile and terrible civil war involving all the important kings of India. Meanwhile, we never lose sight of her strategic duels with her mother-in-law, her complicated friendship with the enigmatic Krishna, or her secret attraction to the mysterious man who is her husbands most dangerous enemy. Panchaali is a fiery female redefining for us a world of warriors, gods, and the ever-manipulating hands of fate.
When I first received the book, I wanted nothing more than to put it away and never pick it up! And, it had nothing to do with the story because (as I am blogging about it) I did finally finish the novel, and enjoyed it immensely. My past experience with Divakaruni’s work has not been positive – I could not like The Mistress of Spices, and assumed this novel would disappoint the same way.
Anyway, when a friend suggested I read this, I put aside my cynicism and skepticism, albeit after a long while, and took the plunge.
And the book surprised me, especially by the fact that I did not have a consistent like or dislike for the characters (except for Vishnu, whom I love!), but a range of emotions from apathy to strong dislike to disgust to hate to love. Very few stories have inspired such a varied range of emotions, but Panchaali’s story did all this with gusto. A reason for this may have been because I did not have prior knowledge of Panchaali’s story in the Mahabarat. Or it could be because the story is from the point of view of this very unusual woman – a woman with courage, strength, a mind of her own, and clear ideas of what she wants for herself and her family. Or it could be because of Divakaruni’s delicate yet unflinching touch in telling this story. Whatever the reason, even months after finishing the novel, sections of the story resurface unbidden and play across my mind at the most unexpected times. This is what good stories do, yes?
In the end, I found myself touched by Panchaali’s story, and think that I may need to give Divakaruni’s other work a chance.