The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publication: February 12th, 2008
Genre: Indian Mythology/Historical Fiction
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 novel 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 side through years of exile and a 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.
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The Palace of Illusions is a reimagining of the mythological Indian epic, The Mahabharat. It follows the story of the princess Draupadi or Panchaali and her five husbands, the Pandavas, Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva as they fight to reclaim their kingdom. The epic tale leads up to a great war known as the Kurukshetra war that they fight against their cousins the Kauravas. Panchaali, daughter of king Draupad, was born out of a fire when her father prayed and fasted for a son who will take vengeance on his enemies. Panchaali is a dark beauty who is highly intelligent. Out of that same fire her brother Dhrishtadyumna, an intense boy, was also born. Panchaali only trusted three people her caretaker, Dhai Ma, her brother, Dhri, and her only friend, Krishna. Krishna continuously guided her through life with his wise advice. When the time arrived for her to marry her father held, Swayamvar and heart belonged to Karna. But her father and Krishna’s scheme to protect the king and the kingdom from his enemies led her to reject and hurt him and follow what they wanted. When she came to the palace of her husband, Arjun she immediately clashed with her fierce mother-in-law, Kunti, who demanded she all five of her sons. That was the catalyst that led to Panchaali enduring a life filled with only pain, loss, and embarrassment. She paid the price for many of the things her husbands did but she was a woman who stuck by them to the very end even when her heart desired other things. Panchaali’s life was not an easy one and I felt so connected to her. This was a woman who took everything thrown at her and rose above it. But my favorite thing was how flawed she was. She had wrongness done to her but she did wrongness as well I mean she was a catalyst in a war that left so many dead.
This was a beautiful story that enchanted me from start to finish. I will be honest though this won’t be for everyone. I personally love history and mythology plus Indian culture so for me I enjoyed this immensely. But for some, this will probably be boring. There is not much dialogue because it is told in a story like manner as if you were sitting around a fire sharing war stories. It is more of a majestic history/mythology lesson than a fun reading. For me, this was enriched with Indian culture and mythology I was immersed in this tale of love and vengeance. Panchaali’s life was not an easy one and I felt so connected to her. This was a woman who took everything thrown at her and rose above it. But my favorite thing was how flawed she was. She had wrongness done to her but she did wrongness as well I mean she was a catalyst in a war that left so many dead.
Such rich detail. The Palace of Illusions was lush, opulent, and I could transport myself there easily through Divakaruni’s words. I don’t know how she told this story as if it was a history lesson yet kept me hooked from page one. I wanted to know everything about Panchaali’s and her husband’s life. It was so beautifully told but not in that overly flowery way. I felt everything Panchaali felt especially in her moments of hurt and weakness. I LOVED how the author wrote her character. It was my favorite thing. Everything was so eloquently done. The storyline was filled with so many raw emotions and you just connected with everyone even some of the Kauravas. This story was full of magic and I don’t mean the Hocus Pocus kind. Divakaruni weaved such an impeccable tale that left me breathless with the stunning prose and vivid detail of everything. There was so much depth in this story and the characters. I loved that the story was told in Panchaali’s point-of-view and I only wished to have heard maybe from one of the husbands, preferably Bhima, Karna, and Krishna.
Panchaali is such a strong woman. I don’t know if I would have been able to handle half the things and humiliations done to her with my head held high like her. Plus the fact that she stuck by her five husbands to the very end of their time was truly remarkable. For all her flaws she had 10 more things that made her great. She was a fierce woman who experienced one of the best character growths that I ever read. Time, experience and age brought her from a naive princess who only wanted love to a true queen who knew grief, loss, and pain but also what love really is, humbleness, and triumph. The other cast of characters were amazing as well. Krishna was a wise man who always knew what to say and when to say it. He was a true love and friend to Panchaali and never left her side. He was also incredibly funny. I loved her brother Dhri and his love for his sister since they were kids. When her father didn’t care for her it was her brother who held tight to her hand and since they were kids till death he kept that same devotion. Her husbands were interesting and I wanted to know more about them. Yudhishthira was the king and a bit foolish. Many of the issues were due to his obsession with gambling but he was wise as well. Bhima was the one out of all five who truly loved Panchaali. He had a true devotion to her and would do and say anything to please her. He was fierce but also so kind. Arjuna was a bit of a mystery. He was her original husband and it seemed he blamed her for his mother’s order that she marry all five of them. From then they were a bit strained but he did care for her it was obvious in little things. Nakula and Sahadeva were the twins and the ones less spoken of. They were sweet and good fighters. Karna was the man who held her heart but also the man she burned by her rejection. He was a stern and dark man but when we got to see some deeper parts to him he dealt with a lot of anger and shame. He actually really loved her. Kunti was a fierce woman as well and with age, she came to truly respect her daughter in law. There are so many other people but just know they were all amazing and added so much to this tale.
“Love comes like lightning, and disappears the same way. If you are lucky, it strikes you right. If not, you’ll spend your life yearning for a man you can’t have.”
“I am buoyant and expansive and uncontainable–but I always was so, only I never knew it!”
“Because ultimately only the witness — and not the actors — knows the truth.”
“Expectations are like hidden rocks in your path—all they do is trip you up.”
“We cannot force ourselves to love—or to withhold it. At best, we can curb our actions. The heart itself is beyond control. That is its power, and its weakness.”
“She who sows vengeance must reap its bloody fruit.”
“Aren’t we all pawns in the hands of time, the greatest player of them all?”
“I saw something I hadn’t realized before: words wasted energy. I would use my strength instead to nurture my belief that my life would unfurl uniquely.”
“A situation in itself,” he said, “is neither happy nor unhappy. It’s only your response to it that causes your sorrow.”
“A problem becomes a problem only if you believe it to be so. And often others see you as you see yourself.”
“Time is the great eraser, both of sorrow and of joy.”
“But truth, when it’s being lived, is less glamorous than our imaginings.”
“Distance is a great promoter of harmony.”
“Can our actions change our destiny? Or are they like sand piled against the breakage in a dam, merely delaying the inevitable?”
“I would no longer waste time on regret. I would turn my face to the future and carve it into the shape I wanted.”
“The power of a man is like a bull’s charge, while the power of a woman moves aslant, like a serpent seeking its prey. Know the particular properties of your power. Unless you use it correctly, it won’t get you what you want.”
“Love. There’s no argument, no matter how strong, that can overcome that word.”
“Wait for a man to avenge your honor, and you’ll wait forever.”