Book Review: The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's novel: The Palace of Illusions is woven out of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, describing the life of a very strong and a fiery woman, she is the wife of the five Pandava brothers. The narrator is none other than Princess Panchaali, who in her own words comes out to describe how it is to be married to five royal men due to complicated circumstances.


The mystical tale has varied settings, and from the start of the first chapter, the human drama of intrigue, greed, envy, courage, yearning combine to unfold the lives of kings, warriors, sages. Krishna appears from time to time with his inexplicable wit and wisdom. Panchaali's special feelings for the ill-fated Karna could make the reader wonder whether such a bond really existed. Who knows!


The Palace of Illusions is a story of the notorious Kaurava princes, encrusted with jewels and endless greed. Their blind father, Dhritarashtra's weakness explains the status of a foolish, dithering parent – not uncommon in our modern day world, too. The author has successfully made the book adequately relevant for today, though the plot is based on very ancient piece of Indian history. The book has meaningful depth, it is not an ordinary book. Those who are familiar with the grand epic will cherish the book beyond any doubt.


Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni portrays Panchaali as a woman who is independent in an extremely powerful patriarchal society – but there are also situations in the royal lady's life where she has to go through social injustices. Kunti and Gandhari are the other two women in the storyline, who partly chose the lives they lived – but they were also driven by the forces of their individual fate. There are many characters in the novel, but the central figures are the five Pandava brothers and Panchaali.


The author's interpretation of Panchaali (Draupadi) is on a high note of positive status, though, many believe that it was this princess's headstrong actions which had brought about the horrendous destruction upon her family and clan, and upon most prevailing kingdoms of those times.  After all, Draupadi has been regarded by many as Kritya – one who brings death!  Panchaali was born from flames and the design of her destiny was to have The Great War.

The novel has different settings with descriptions of various characters and their reputations. The palace of Panchaali’s father, King Drupada is cold and cheerless for the growing princess. Pandavas rebuild the barren land of Khandava into ‘The Palace of Illusions,’ which is out of another world where they reside after their marriage to her. The key-incident of the dice game, when Draupadi is put up as a final bet by her Yudhisthira and humiliated in court; living in exile; these are just some of the settings re-created with the charming energy of the author. 


Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her work has reached many corners of the world – having been translated into 13 languages. Her other novels are: Mistress of Spices. Sister of My HeartBefore We Visit the Goddess. Oleander Girl.

Geeta Chhabra


Geeta Chhabra Comment Form
Form a link. Comment inside the box below. Your views will be published in a coming edition.