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Book Review: The Palace of IllusionsBook Review: The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee DivakaruniPremise: in ancient India, King Drupad longed for revenge, in order to bring his enemies down, he prayed to the gods and offered a fire sacrifice, then in a great pyre of fire two children were miraculously born, Draupadi (or Panchaali) and her brother Dhrishtadyumna (Dhri for short), the King welcomed Dhri with open arms because the prince would clearly bring the revenge and glory he desired whilst Draupadi was mostly ignored and locked in her father's palace with a strange prophecy: she would change history in the future.The story is set in an ancient time when mortals could still communicate with gods a bit more easily, guru, sages and sorceresses roamed the land, etc, etc; quite exciting so far. Although I'd admit the heroine isn't the most adorable character from time to time.Since I know only the basic of the Mahabharat so I found this retelling to be rich with fine details, human dramas, conflicts, plot twists, complicated family history and secrets, some gods (plus the awesome magical weapons and boons they offered) here and there and good writing but what I don't really like is the romance between the heroine and a certain someone, I mean........come on, the two only met each other occasionally through the years and yet the guy was the one the heroine longed for most in her life? Come on! I think her friendship with the mysterious, godly(?) Krishna is a lot more delightful and believable.In the myths, Panchaali seems to be merely a beautiful prize her father gifted to the Pandava brothers after Arjun won her hand, a faithful wife, a victim of schemes and kidnapping, a long-suffering woman of men's lust and violence, nothing more. Her emotions and thoughts are hardly mentioned (for example, what did she think about having to marry five men at once and shared among them?) Therefore I'm delighted to see Ms. Divakaruni dug deeper into the source material and offered us a look into Panchaali not as a goddess (she is in fact worshiped as a goddess by some people) or a brave, virtuous heroine, but as a flawed woman, and told her life story from her own viewpoint from her girlhood to old age. So we can see how Panchali grew from a curious and energized girl, a proud and headstrong queen (for many times too headstrong and prideful for her own good), a disillusioned wife and eventually a revengeful and heartbroken woman who had weathered many losses.As with most of the stories from the Hindu mythology, karma plays a major part and the main characters, from the protagonists to the antagonists, are always dragged down by their own stubbornness, greed, self-righteousness, pride and lies, etc etc; for example, it is made clear early on that King Drupad had brought his own humiliation and defeat to himself after he mistreated his former friend Drona, which turned the latter against him. Even the most well meaning and kind-heartened people would make mistakes and they would usually pay dearly for their mistakes, as all beings are entangled in a web of karma of their own making.On the other hand, I really don't like the heroine's longing for 'this certain person' (no plot spoiler!), I mean......wow, just wow. It's even worse than the general insta-love.I'd already mentioned I like the life-long friendship between the heroine and Krishna, anyone who knows enough Hindu myths would know Krishna is the reincarnation of Viṣṇu (one of the Big Three main deities), but I like how the heroine wasn't certain about Krishna's godhood while the other characters regarded the man as either a demi-god or a trickster.Yet, there isn't much strong friendship between the heroine and the other women in the book (the heroine noted the women in her father's palace are afraid of her for her unusual birth and her unusually foretold 'destiny') excepts the one she had with her wet nurse Dhai Ma, and the friendship she formed among her daughter in law and the other noble women when those women, as widows, banding together to look after other even less fortune widows, sadly such sisterhood hasn't been described in detail.The tension between the heroine and her hardened mother-in-law, Kunti, how the older woman made her many difficult decisions to safeguard her sons' well being--regardless of how these decisions would make others suffer, is well written.As to Panchaali's five husbands: the Pandava brothers, Arjun (the greatest warrior of the time), Yudhishthira (the oldest brother) and Bhima have more screen time and their relationship with their chief wife (Panchaali) are developed better than their twin brothers: Nakula and Sahadeva. I know, it is hard to tell the life stories of all five brothers at once, so many of their famous adventures and conquers are only mentioned in passing.Among the male characters, the heroine's brother Dhri doesn't seem to have flaw. Perhaps all kind big brothers are flawless in their eyes of their adoring little sisters? Plus Dhir endears himself to me with the few scenes of him playing together with his sister and how he refused to let go of his sister's hand when the King wanted to accept only him in the fire rite.PS: I requested the public library to buy this book, seems like it's a good choice. I hope there will be more of Ms. Divakaruni's creations to be found in the future.
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