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Book Review: The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

27th November, 2015

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

This is the story of Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas who struggles in a man’s world to ascertain her likes and dislikes, resulting in few successes and many miserable failures. Her attraction towards Karna, the enemy of the Pandavas, her approach towards her scheming mother in law, Kunti and her complicated relationship on being married to five husbands at the same time weave together this story.


The Palace of Illusions, constructed by specific instructions from Draupadi is the central theme around which is told the story of the battle of Kurukshetra.

“Above us our palace waits, the only one I’ve ever needed. Its walls are space, its floor is sky, its center everywhere. We rise; the shapes cluster around us in welcome, dissolving and forming again like fireflies in a summer evening.”  – The Palace of Illusions

The book tells the story of the epic Mahabharata through the eyes of the woman who plays a pivotal role in the battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas – Draupadi. Here, we see Draupadi as a strong woman born into a patriarchal society that forces her to spend a lonely childhood having her brother as her only companion. Though  Arjuna, the third of the Pandavas, wins her hand, she is helpless as she is made the wife of all five of the Pandavas by Kunti. Her grief at not being defended by Arjuna, anger in being used as a prize in the gambling games between the Kauravas and the Pandavas and her difficult life living in exile with her husbands in a forest as the obedient wife throw light on different aspects of her personality.

Unlike the other versions of the story, where Kunti is seen as a devoted mother of the Pandavas, Divakaruni’s story reveals her cunning nature and her fear of society to acknowledge her first born son, Karna who was born from Surya, the Sun God, before her marriage. Along with the story of Draupadi, the book beautifully portrays the heartbreaking story of Karna who is mocked for his unknown lineage which disqualifies him from asking for Draupadi’s hand in marriage even though he is the eligible one. Karna’s frustration at being abandoned at birth and raised with no knowledge of his parents, Draupadi’s thoughts about him, his love for the haughty Draupadi and his agony of being torn between his mother and brothers on one side and his devotion towards his friend, Duryodhana of the Kaurava clan on the other, all form facets of the great war.

“Aren’t we all pawns in the hands of time, the greatest player of them all?”  – The Palace of Illusions

On a deeper note, the book talks about right and wrong and the victory and inevitable loss brought about by war. It makes you ponder whether unfair means towards victory for a good cause are ethical or not. You would enjoy this read if you like fantasy and Indian Mythology.

Title : The Palace of Illusions
Author : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Published : 2008
Language : English
Pages : 360
Rating : 3.5/5

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The Palace of Illusions

About the Author

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an Indian-American author, poet, and the Betty and Gene McDavid Professor of Writing at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program. Her short story collection, Arranged Marriage won an American Book Award in 1995. Two of her novels (The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart) were adapted into films. She writes for children as well as adults and has published novels in multiple genres, including realistic fiction, historical fiction, magical realism, and fantasy.

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