Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

February 12, 2008
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Palace of Illusions
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

DoubleDay
2/12/08
Trade Paperback/336 pages
ISBN: 0-385-51599-5
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". . . combines magic, mythology and a modern sensibility into a wondrous saga. . ."

Palace of Illusions: Indian mythology from a woman’s point of view.

Born in fire and destined to change the course of history, Princess Panchaali is determined to carve her own name in history and not merely follow the paths of men as women are trained to do. Strong-willed and headstrong, Panchaali flouts tradition by learning to read and write and reason like her brother, born moments before her in the same fire the priests conjured after one hundred days of prayer.

Panchaali’s father devises a test to choose her husband. Instead, she falls in love with a prince who is no prince, a man merely adopted by a king. She faces the prince and asks to know his father’s name. The prince was found floating in the river and brought up by a chariot driver in the raja’s court. Burning with anger and shame, the prince leaves and a Brahmin wins the contest. He takes Panchaali away from the palace and the life she has known. He makes her walk bare-footed to his home, a hovel he shares with his mother and four brothers. She soon discovers she is married to Prince Arjuna who, along with his brothers, is rumored to be dead. His mother, a very clever woman, declares that Panchaali must marry Arjuna’s four brothers in order to protect them all, thus fulfilling the prophecy made at Panchaali’s unorthodox birth and setting her on the path to fulfilling the rest of her destiny.

The Mahabharata, an epic tale from Indian mythology, is the source from which Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni draws Palace of Illusions. But this time the story is told from Princess Panchaali’s point of view, giving it a strong female perspective. Palace of Illusions is as much a morality tale as it is a tale of magic and adventure. Departing from traditional allegorical language, Panchaali’s story is mythic in proportion yet as simple as a woman’s heart and soul. Divakaruni doesn’t spare the blood or intrigue inherent in this ages old retelling, nor does she spare the magic while laying bare the mystery at the center of Panchaali’s journey. Palace of Illusions combines magic, mythology and a modern sensibility into a wondrous saga of passion and human flaws. It offers new insight into the human heart and the deeper mysteries of fate that echoes strongly in the present.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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