The Palace of Illusions

I read The Palace of Illusions a month ago after much waiting for it to come out in paperback (I’m cheap like that!) and because I refuse to use libraries. I need to own my books.  The OA had been given strict instructions to check all airport bookshops but being the OA, he came up with zilch. The day I got it, I fell on it like a starving wolf and read it through breakfast, while feeding the kids, in the car, on the pot – you get the picture.

Never having heard the Mahabharata as a story while growing up and only catching bits on TV and in conversation, I knew nothing of Draupadi. All I knew was that she married five men (I knew not why) and that Garden Vareli sponsored the endless saree she was wrapped in, in the serial that they showed on the telly.

So if this book is just Chitra’s interpretation that’s just too bad because I am totally sold on it. I read her Mistress of Spices and enjoyed her writing but somehow never felt compelled to pick up anything else of hers. But I recently read Devdutt Patnaik’s The Pregnant King and I knew I wanted more Hindu mythology written this way. And boy, what a treat the Palace of Illusions was. So don’t tell me it tells nothing of the real story, that its distorted, that she’s misinterpreted. I don’t want to know. I don’t care.

Sometime after the first chapter I was so deeply drawn into it that I’d snap back to reality rather disoriented. I’m not going to really review the book except to repeat what Itchy and I chatted about – that after I read it, I didn’t feel like reading anything else for a while, simply because I didn’t want to move out of that era and that genre.

I was fascinated by the way she learnt how to handle each husband. I have a tough time dealing with one. Her relationship with Krishna was just like one I share with a very good friend – hard to define. I was shocked by how little she gave to her children. And yet, it was so easy to associate with a woman, with her power struggles with her mother in law and her strange relationship with Karan. I think thats where she got me by the err… spherical objects. I yearned for him through her, right through the book. And even as it neared the end I was cheering for them to be together. None of the others deserved her. I had tears running down my face as I read the last line and the OA looked at me like I’d lost it.

There’s an old saying that the best love stories are those that don’t have a happy ending. I refuse to believe that.  Do you?

And now moving on to the question that Itchy asked and Sue answered. If Maya were to build me a house, what would it be like….

It would be on top of a mountain and the only way to get there would be via cable car. There’d be endless lawns and orchards and gardens and I’d spend my day tending to them. My kids (all 12 of them!!) would run wild and free and you’d hear the shrieks of baby laughter through the house. I’d have a library lined with books. I’d have a sound proof music room for the kids and the husband. I’d lock them in there and go for long leisurely baths in a tub that looked out into the forests. Sigh. I think I should stop. Yeah, I think I’m a hill person. The OA is welcome to his beaches.

110 thoughts on “The Palace of Illusions

  1. i am reading it right now and I so know what u mean by owing books I am like that too…

    BTW I just finished reading MY Sister’s Keeper… a very very moving book I remember u had done a review once but couldn’t locate it on ur blog, was it on the old one?

  2. Hi! Not read many Indian mythology based stories, thats something I need to catch up with:) But I did read a book “Women of the Mahabharata”,was very interesting to see the relevance of their struggles in our lives as well. This one sounds like a must catch!

    I agree, best love stries dont have to have a sad ending.

    And when you are building that hill top house, please make an exact same copy for me as well. And gift it to me 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. Reading so many reviews of this…now I have to get it. Was a bit starved and looking for a book that would pull me into it! Loved the part abt locking in the family…would love to do that myself. My house would be in the flower-filled valley below your hill:)

    Have you read Ashok Banker’s Ayodhya series? I loved all 6 of them. Starts with Prince of Ayodhya.

    And no, how can a love story not have a happy ending? Love is happiness, or isn’t it?!

    Btw, I had problems with my PC and browser when I switched on the snow on my blog, it started revving like a car climbing a hill! Hadda switch it off. The same thing happens when I visit your blog and others where its snowing. Just FYI:)

  4. Wow. I’ve gotten into the habit of book-shopping at Landmark every Sunday evening; maybe I’ll move out of my Asimov comfort zone and pick up this! Unless it’s more than 400-odd rupees, in which case I’ll just borrow your copy…

  5. What startled me a little was the impression of Kunti as a scheming MIL. Heh.

    BTW, my home needs hills nearby. I feel uncomfortable in the flatlands.

    • didnt it? I always thought of her as a saintly sort although i did always wonder what kinda mother throws away her first born 😦 I think I’ve sided with Karan for longer than I can imagine, without even knowing much about the rest of the story. and then reading this just blew me away. he’s all Byronic. ooh… never thought of that before!

      • Byronic? LOL

        Yeah, he’s never really been in the centre of the story for me before but this one book gave me goosebumps, as you can imagine. 😉

  6. Draupadi yearned for Karan – Now this is interesting piece of information for me! Never knew about this!
    I am now waiting to get my hands on this book – especially for the Draupadi-Karan episode and the way she handled the whims and fancies of five(!!!) husbands. And how can I forget… the MIL!

  7. Hey, even i loved the book… i have known mahabharat all through my childhood, but somehow i loved the way she wrote it… Mahabharat in the actual does not mention anything about her fascination towards Karna…

    Do try Ashok Banker’s Ramayan series, if you have not yet read it… i can relate to his ramayan more than the actual valmiki’s ramayan.. Ashok Banker’s Ram and Sita are portrayed as normal human beings as opposed to the gods in the original script… thats easier for me to digest. i read his complete series

  8. Have grown up listening to Mahabaratha..but never never does it tocuh upon the finer aspects mentioned here….now…on my way back home have to pick up this book.

  9. I wrote on this a while back too.

    Oh yes, I did not want to pick up any other book too for a long time and break the rhythm.

    If you indeed liked her Mistress of Spices and this one (there are very few people who I have come across who like them), go for “Arranged Marriage” by the same author. Simple short tales, yet without closure which leaves you with a feeling that I dont quite know how to describe it. Maybe you would sound better writing about it…

  10. awww… MM. had read reviews of this by others, but yours left me wating to go buy it! Had goosebumps as I read, I swear! It sure comes thru that you LOVED the book.
    I like Chitra Divakaruni’s Sisters of the Heart and the one she wrote before that, but I didn’t like Mistress of spices.

    Definitely going to buy it once I finish the Time Traveler. HAve u read that??

  11. I’m getting this one. I just finished reading the real ones (C. Rajagopalachari’s Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita)
    Where did you order the paperback version from? (yea, I too fall under the cheap category 😦 ) Think you might like Sister of My Heart too.

  12. Wow MM! You write about a book in such a way that the reader becomes hungry for it. I hope the writer reads your post.

  13. Lovely review. Will see if I get the book here. I love owning books too….if only we didnt have to move so much 😦 I am a hill person too … though I dont mind the beaches either!

  14. I have to get the book now,I love Chitra D’s book, She narrates it so well. Also shared ur view on My Sister’s Keeper, otherwise a really dramatic book, so intense! I just couldn’t relate to the how a mother can harm one for another…but a difficult situation to be in!

  15. I read this book sometime last year (or earlier this year, I forget). I generally dislike the way she writes, I hated Mistress of Spices. I pretty much hated this book too. It’s so…sentimental. I guess one of the positives of the book is that she concentrates on Draupadi, giving her internal dialogue that I don’t think the original Mahabharat allows for and certainly not any other versions of it post that. But then that has been done before and better (there is a book called Ramayana Tales in Modern South India, edited by Paula Richman, if you’re interested). CBD’s style of writing puts me off completely. Historicity is not an issue but the way she writes certainly is.

  16. Also, Ram, Sita, the Pandavas etc are not treated as gods in the original texts of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. They’re treated similiar to the figure of the tragic hero, the guy with good intentions but with a fatal flaw, like Oedipus etc. What we know of it now is largely informed by Hindu right wing propaganda.

  17. If you can lay your hands on them, you might also like Yajnaseni (by Pratibha Ray) and Mrityunjaya (Shivaji Sawant). One is the story of Draupadi as told by her, and the other is the story of Karna, and both, I think, are excellent in their own way. Translations, of course, with all the problems of translated books, but since I can’t read Oriya or Marathi, I’m not complaining.

  18. As an absolute crazy fan of the Mahabharata, I fall hungrily upon anything that is even remotely inspired by it. Which is why I got this as fast as I could.

    Don’t kill me, but even though I read through it in one long gulp, I was left feeling ‘meh…’ But then, that’s what all her writing does to me. The beginning is always promising, but towards the end, she seems like she’s just about lost patience and puts everything together in a slap-dash, unthought-out hurry.

    As for her five husbands…Bhim was da man!

  19. I read both Palace of Illusions and The Pregnant King one after the other was spell bound. I love The Mahabharata- its my favorite epic, I have had it read out to me by my nani and mum and loved the characters and of course the multi-layered complex story lines. I think most of the characters and their struggles are relevant to this day. I was always drawn to Draupadi (I was almost named Panchali- thank god my folks decided against it, school would have been an endless torture!!) and my heart went out to Karan- who always seemed like such a tragic hero, whose life could have been completely different and happier if only things had gone a different way.

    I Divakaruni’s work, whether Sister of my Heart or her short stories, maybe being half Bong and getting what she is talking about has something to do with it, since I know a lot of people who do not like her style or her content.

    I like your dream home, it sounds magical. And not to mention how much more fun your blog would be with 12 kids to chronicle:)

  20. Err…isnt it Karna/Karnan? Am wondering where karan came from or is this a totally different character? I would be heartbroken because its one of the 2 things I know of Mahabaratha…

  21. You know, I never picked up this book too, because it wasn’t out in paperback! Maybe I can be even more stingy and borrow yours… I’ll return it in two days, I promise! 😛

  22. Add me to the “eh” camp – I just can’t get into CBD’s writing, and this one seemed particularly Ektaaa (how many a’s?) Kapoor-esque…

    Second the rec for Ashok Banker – he’s good, though again, I liked his Ramayana better.

    For mahabharata-themed stories, I loved Nyagrodha (Kalpish Ratna – a pair of authors) – based on a Panchatantra tale.


    • well, thats the thing with anything arty 🙂 you have the likers camp and the haters camp. I think I particularly enjoyed it because to me it WAS a new story. I’ve no idea what the original is like and this was totally a fun read.

  23. Hey, commenting here after a super long time. I have read this book and enjoyed it a lot.

    Like your imagination regarding the house 🙂

  24. I read it and fall in love with it. (pssst:I am so cheap that i get all my books from the library)

    I was then on a mission to hunt down and read more about the Mahabharata. The author recently did a talk and I didnt go!!

  25. This sounds like a very interesting read. I have to get my hands on this one. I am reading another one by the same author. “The sister of my heart” Have you read that one?

  26. I read this one about a year ago and like you said, dint want to read anything for a while. It was so captivating! This book made me see things from a woman’s angle and I simply loved Chitra’s interpretation of it.

  27. Im surprised by sues and your comment. Karnan was always a huge figure for me when i was growing up. so many stories, movies, songs, poems,… on him. he has been my fav mahabharatha character always. needless to say, loved the book.

    • What about our comments surprised you, Boo? And you’re the second person to call him Karnan. Is that what he’s called in the south? I have never heard it in the north. Although admittedly the Mahabharat wasn’t really a part of my growing up

      • Hey MM. I read the book about a year ago and absolutely loved it. Especially the last couple of pages. And yeah, We Kannadigas call him Karna. And he’s Karnan to the Tamilians. I was told by my grand dad that Karna means ears in Sanskrit and he got the name because of the earrings and the shield he got from his father the Sun-God!

      • In literatures, names almost always end with an n when referring to their names. so its Arujunan, Karnan, Krishnan, Bheeman,… but while a person calls the other by name, its Karna, krishna,… Written and spoken langugage differences, i guess.

        I was surprised because I got the impression that Karnan is not as popular as I thought he was and also because he was a very important part of the story for me.

        • ah yes. language difference – I’ve never heard Arjunan or Karnan. Although I am no authority. Mine is merely what I’ve picked up off TV and from friends homes.

          As for Karan – well, don’t go by me! As you know, this is just my introduction to the Mahabharata. Its not something I grew up with so let alone Karan, I wasn’t even familiar with the rest in the way you might be.

  28. I will add Palace of Illusion to my list. I really liked “the mistress of spices”

    If you haven’t read it already, I think you might enjoy “The Twentieth Wife” and “The feast of Roses” by Indu Sundaresan.

  29. I must have this book, right away! Thanks for the review MM, simply amazing. I can never review books that I’ve read. Just so thankful you review and review it so well, it’s difficult not to read it instantly 😀

  30. There is this Bengali book called ‘Mahabharater Maharanye’ by Pratibha Basu. I think you get a translation of it too. It is one of the most thought provoking books I have ever read. Looks at the entire epic from a completely different perspective. All the heroes are villains and vice versa. Do read it if you can. It made me think so much.

  31. if you love Karna the way i do HAVE to read Mrityunjaya! tho i have no idea where you can get translation. i read it in Marathi and i was sobbing by the end of it. its a beautiful book.

    so is Krishna. i forget the author. i have always disliked Krishna a l’il for all the crookedness he indulged in. but this book shows a different side.

    and yes, i loved palace of illusions too! it made such a gripping read!


      • i have found his crookedness to the point of unfair. like taking away karna’s armour that made him invincible. yeah he did it for the right side, but not always the right way! and that somehow always bothers me!

        but then he was meant to be like that i guess! 🙂

  32. oh! and you MUST watch this animated movie called Sita Sings the Blues. while Ramayana is a dull epic in front of Mahabharata, this movies talks about sita’s PoV juxtaposing it against a modern relationship! the gal who made it ran into copyright issues. so now its freely available on the internet! you will love it! 🙂

  33. am a huge man of mahabharat as well. who can ever forget the ever green moral of this story when the great vyasa told us first time ‘the winners and the losers – everyone of them lost this war’!! it kind of sums up all wars in the history of mankind!

    always loved draupadi.
    even as a child draupadi was the real woman for me though sita savitri likes were held in higher esteem those days.

    the best book i read on mahabharat is M T Vasudevan nair’s ‘Randamoozham’ in malayalam – means ‘the Second in turn’ – which is mahabharat retold from Bheem’s point of view.

    it created some controversies as the writer in his inimitable lyrical language picturised all characters as flawed ordinary people caught up with extra ordinary predicaments.he also took out the conferred godliness from krishna’s character n showed him as shrewd politician blessed with a way of words. it was also implied that kunti got pregnant each time from some one close in her circle and the grand scheme of different devas as fathers to pandavas is shown as clever lie by kunti to impress junta around.

    i loved the way author brought out the sidelined and silent heroism of Bheem throughout the adverse situations Pandavas faced including the war where he single handedly killed all the 100 kauravas. M T heartrendingly depicted the poignancy of moments where the great Vyasa is silent.

    Draupadi shines in this book as the enchanting manipulative woman who simply loved wars.Both she n kunti are the kind of multi layered complex yet heroic women in gray we hardly meet in Indian movies or books.
    Draupadi in fact reminds me so much of another favourite, scarlett ohara. Only thing is instead of one man, a couple of v dissimilar heroes are totally smitten with her here including the tragic hero karnan.

    i wish some capable director will capture in celluloid this ever fascinating epic – never missing the allure of each character of this feauding family. it will beat harry potters/lord of the rings any day!

    thks for the review – will try to get this book though i doubt whether she can better M.T!

      • If you’re interested in MT’s version, I found a “re-telling” of it in English (since I can’t read Malayalam). You should be able to find it if you search for Prem Panicker’s “Bhimsen” online.

        It was a fascinating read. I literally could not tear myself away from the screen 🙂

  34. I just loved this book..when i was reading it i didnt want the train ride to end coz it meant putting down the book…My nani has read the mahabharat to us many times so most of this book is the real story…:-)

  35. I’ve loved CB Divakaruni ever since I read Sister of My Heart, 4 years ago. Her books are ethereal and you just don’t want them to end. I’d gifted The Palace of Illusions to a friend on her birthday last year and she finished it and gave it right back to me a day later. It was brilliant as I’d expected it to be.
    Oh and since you liked this, you must MUST read Irawati Karve’s “Yuganta” although I think you must have, because friends who’ve done English Lit. just roll their eyes when I recommend the book to them. They apparently read it in their first year itself 🙂

  36. I have alway loved the Mahabharat and have grown up with the stories from Mahabharat. You must try and watch the movie ‘Kalyug’ by Shyam Benegal. Its a brilliant movie adapting the basic storyline and characters from the epic and turning it into a modern day family feud.
    And though, I have always found the Ramayan a bit of a sob story of weak characters, you must try the Ashok Banker series. Its a competely different perspective and quite an interesting read.

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  38. Ok – I wanted to comment after reading the book. I loved it so thanks for the write-up. Though I kept feeling uncomfortable with the Karn angle. I know the book is fiction n all but I guess the original story is too steeped in my mind to accept this. I kept wishing she would explore the relationship between Draupadi and Arjun more as I think the original Mahabharata talks about how they shared a special relationship even though she wed all 5 brothers. However, all said and done, I read the book in 2 days and am still in that era.

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  40. Thanks to your post, I read this book. I loved it. I cried piteously when Karna died, that too in a train. Thankfully the coach had curtains!

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  43. Please read ‘Yagyaseni’ by Pratibha Ray, originally written in Oriya but later was translated into Hindi and English (translated by Pradeep Bhattacharya & published by Rupa & Co) – English translation is particularly good but if you wish to know know a fiery character who spoke her mind, it’s a book for you. The end doesn’t quite sit with me but the book makes it more than a worth reading.

  44. The day I read this post..I stopped by the library in the evening and rented this book. Am I glad I did or what!! My u’standing and knowledge of the mahabartha is very sketchy too and so, it was nice to read it and get this perspective.

    The relationship between Karna and Panchaali is so REAL! Just what us aam janta people would experience!

    As I read the book, 2 friends (who I alwez love discussing books with) and I..spoke about the book. And they too recommended that I read Mahabaratha thru’ the eyes of Bheema.

    I did go thru the comments section and jot down a bunch of recommendations . Meanwhile…knowing what’s cooking in my life right now, what would be your recommendation for me?

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