Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Book I Loved and Yet Disagreed With


I had been hearing great things about 'The Palace Of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni' for the longest time. Everyone who read it was raving about it. And my curiosity about the book was quite piqued by all those recommendations. Truth be told, there was a time in my life, when no matter how tiered, I could not shut my eyes, till I read some. Life changed, as did my habits, my association with books, could at best be called dead till a few months back. Then a couple of bloggers started discussing about the books they were reading on Twitter, and I felt a twinge, which made me realise how much I miss reading books. So I bought a few, and started getting back on track. It was on my way back from India at the airport, when we had an hour at hand, and I was running around the BB, that I stopped at the bookstore. And that is where I spotted The Palace of Illusions. And I immediately bought it. Its not easy to find an Indian author's book here, I had to source 'Bringing Up Vasu' all the way from India, and strangely enough that landed up with me on the day I was leaving from India, and I read it there.

However, getting back to The Palace of Illusions, it is a very gripping and captivating tale or maybe I should say narration. Since I did not know even that much about the book, it surprised me to know that it is the tale of Mahabharata as the author felt was experienced by Draupadi. The original tale itself is supremely riveting and captivating, with its twists and turns, intricate side stories and the entire chain of events. So a re-narration is very unlikely to be bad. One has to be a really bad writer to mess up the original, and that Chitra Banerjee is not. Her style of narration is wonderful. I could not wait to grab the book each chance I got, and go on reading it. Simply put, it is the narration of the epic as experienced by Draupadi. Her emotions, her views, her life everything expressed as she felt. The book also speaks of a love she holds in her heart for Karna, a secret love she harbours all her life, as does Karna. I have not read the unabridged version of the epic, and hence I do not know whether this is supported in the original or a personal addition of the author. But this does touch a little something special to the book. A touch of the forbidden love, a relationship doomed by the stars, feelings that run deeper than the formality of relationships, and yet morals strong enough to hold both the people back. The book is a wonderful read.

And yet I am not convinced by the idea of the book. While the author claims to write from Draupadi's stance, I don't think it is fair. We with our modern, liberated mindset, cannot claim to know how a woman who lived eons ago felt or thought. I do not believe the wants, beliefs or morals of a woman in those times are the same as those of the women today. It was a different society, a very different mind set. It is unfair to look at that world with today's mindset. There can be arguments saying human nature has always been the same, but I strongly believe that the society we grow up in, does shape up the way we are. And hence a woman today will be very different from a woman who lived thousands of years ago. That is my belief and hence the flaw in the very premise of the narration. The book is worth a read though, either which way. And that is my simple opinion.

9 comments:

thethoughtfultrain said...

Oh I just adored "Sister of my Heart" by the same author and I will be sure to pick Palace of Illusions too! I will have to read the book to comment about your views on the theme of the book!

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

First of all, I loved the honesty with which you wrote the reviews because I am so tired of reading reviews that sound like marketing strategies. In fact, so many reputed bloggers are doing this to promote publishers and so on. I am so glad that you wrote from your heart, not with a marketing purpose. Thank you for being different.

Secondly, I too have always wanted to read the Palace of Illusions as I have enjoyed other novels by Chitra Banerjee. What stopped me was the same thought you expressed. I could not find myself agreeing to the concept of the book about a mythical character whose feelings are resurrected in today's times.

From your review, I understand the book is worth reading. I really thank you for such a fine review.

Sraboney said...

I too didn't think the book was all that great - I think women are raving about it because it's from the point of view of a supposedly wronged woman (Draupadi)...

I too feel that we shouldn't judge Draupadi because of the time she lived in just like we shouldn't judge women who decide to wear burqas...

Monika said...

oh i havent read this one, shld grab seems interesting

Solilo said...

Even though I like different interpretations to our epics still I couldn't make myself to like this book.

I felt this was written very childishly without much research. A different take would be justified if it still stays true to that time period. Giving modern values and thoughts to a lady who lived in that era spoiled it for me.

D said...

You've been tagged!

Passionate Goof said...


t3 - Would love to know what you think!

Swapna - I am notp much of a reviewer, don't do a great job of it, to be honest. ;) Do read it, because its a good read, or so I felt, but I somehow cannot relate it to the Mahabharata as I know it.

Sraboney - Completely agree.

Monika - Do read it one.

Sol - I enjoyed reading the book, but somehow I cannot relate it to Mahabharat.

D - Okie, will just see. :)

Smitha said...

I have a lot of books by this Author on my wishlist. Haven't managed to get hold of one yet.

Your analysis sounds very interesting - will definitely read this for myself..just to find out, you know :)

Shail said...

We cannot claim to know the mindset of the people of any era. But we can use our imagination and interpret it our individual way, even the modern way. Sort of 'What if it had been this way she thought...??' Isn't that what is called creativity?? Chitra Divakaruni wrote it her way. Another author might do it differently. But of course, it is not a must we agree or like each interpretation. Personally, I loved the book.