Book Review: The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Genre: Historical Fiction

“…I would often wonder if indeed there was more to existence than what logic and and my senses could grasp.”

– Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

India is a place that has cradled many epics and legends, but the two most loved epics of this culturally rich peninsula have always been the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Both the epics recite countless tales of heroism with its legendary heroes, the vices of vengeful characters and the aftermath of every befallen curse. The Palace of Illusions is a wondrous book that captures the tale of Mahabharata, but there is a difference- Chitra Banerjee chose to write Mahabharata from the eyes of the most underrated, prominent character – Panchaali (or Draupadi.) Yes, a tale of male heroism and folly through the eyes of a strong female; a female who was destined to change the course of history, a female who was born with a prophesy to cause the great war of Kurukshetra and a female who lost before she could even love.

“Wasn’t power singular and simple? In the world that I knew, men just happened to have more of it.”

Chitra Banerjee dauntingly voiced out one of the major things that we always noticed, but never gave a thought to – the minimalistic portrayals of strong women in Mahabharata. This book points out that females were not only a specimen to care for their husbands, but also, they were much more powerful in their approach and independent in thought than most other characters. An epic with women in the forefront. 

The book tours the readers from the suspicious and unprecedented birth of Panchaali, the princess of Panchaal, who always looked at the world with the eyes of an unfiltered critic. The readers then swim into her endlessly strong friendship with Krishna, who was loyal to her till the end, with the trust that they eternally shared; her personal lives with her five husbands, and how she supported and strengthened them through their highs and lows; her mystical attachment to Karna, a saga of its own and her journey from a girl who loved to hear the story of her mysterious birth, to the woman who loved her palace that was full of intriguing illusions, is what this ocean of a book, a tale of tales, has to offer. 

It is a greatly crafted piece of art, an epic crowning the strong females of Mahabharata, a book that I would happily read to someone who says that Mahabharata is all about the masculine Pandavas and Kauravas, to give them a piece of enlightenment that the reason why women survived the great war of Kurukshetra was because they lacked ego and were far more virtuous than the men, each with her own distinct identity, that further created history.

A handful of my favourite quotes:

  1. Each story will come in its time.
  2. And shut up as I was in this mausoleum of a palace, how would history even find me?
  3. This made him a fair ruler, but not a beloved one.
  4. So that what you started in milk could end one day in blood.
  5. Remember that, little sister: wait for a man to avenge your honour, and you’ll wait forever.
  6. Love comes like lightning and disappears the same way. If you’re lucky it strikes you right.
  7. But my believing is not important, nor yours. Thats not why stories are given to you.
  8. Doesn’t the imagination always exaggerate or diminish truth?
  9. “Ah forgiveness,” Dhri said. “Its a virtue that eludes even the great. Isn’t our existence a proof of that?”
  10. Nothing has more power over us than the truth.
  11. No matter how skilled they were at battle, ultimately it would not help them because they were forever defeated by their conscience.
  12. But truth, when its being lived, is less glamorous than our imaginings.
  13. I wanted to believe that sometimes good may happen without bad biting its heels.
  14. There’s so little in life that’s worth it.
  15. No one can shame you, he said, if you don’t allow it.

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