rachelmanija: (Mahabharata: Krishna with wheel)
rachelmanija ([personal profile] rachelmanija) wrote2009-04-07 09:49

The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

A retelling of my favorite epic, the Mahabharata, from the point of view of Draupadi who here goes by another of her names, Panchaali. For those who don't know the story already, Panchaali is a princess who marries the five Pandava brothers and proceeds to live a rather put-upon life; her attempted stripping by the Pandavas' rivals is the immediate cause of the great war between them.

I have no idea how this book comes across if you're not already familiar with the story, and I am very curious about that. Please report if you fit into that category. (I am especially curious how you felt about the Panchaali/Karna thing; I couldn't tell if it worked for me because of what was actually in the text, or because I was projecting what I already knew about him.)

I think this might well be a good introduction to the story. It definitely tells the whole thing, but in very short form and in excellent prose.

My favorite parts were the ones in which Divakaruni brings more of her own ideas and interpretations to the story. I liked the beginning of the novel, which focues on Panchaali's childhood and young adulthood, better than the later parts, in which Panchaali is only present in her own reflections on events which mostly concern other people. I could have happily read a novel which ended at her marriage, in fact. Once the war begins, Divakaruni proceeds with more of a standard retelling than the re-imagining she began with, and since I've read a lot of re-tellings, that's less interesting to me.

Some of the more notable additions and interpetations are that Panchaali is secretly in love with Karna (I must say that I loved this); there's also a lot of attention given to her special relationship with Krishna, especially at the beginning, which I also enjoyed. I had a bit of a problem with the very modern-sounding way in which she expressed feminist sentiments - not a problem with the feelings themselves, but that they were phrased in a way that felt too contemporary to me.

I would have also liked to see more emotional range, especially later on. This may be my interpretation imposing itself, but I always thought that Draupadi had very high highs and very low lows. Here, she's never really happy with her husbands, and never really glories in battle and revenge - she already knows the war is futile and revenge won't bring her happiness before the war even begins. I would have liked to see more joy and ferocity, in addition to frustration, unhappiness, and resignation.

I appreciated the moments of humor early on ("Something always seems to go wrong at a swayamvara") and would have liked a little more of it later. Okay, maybe not at Kurukshetra, but it seemed like no one ever laughed once Panchaali got married, except for the catastrophic moment in the Palace of Illusions when Duryodhan falls into the pool.

I definitely enjoyed seeing Divakaruni's interpretation of the characters (I especially loved her Veda Vyasa, and her alternately very human and otherworldly Krishna, especially as he was early on) and the clever way she juggled a truly dizzying array of characters and events. Overall, I liked it, but I would have liked to see less of Kurukshetra and more of Panchaali.

Buy it from Amazon: The Palace of Illusions: A Novel

ETA: As per conversation in comments, I have added more links so you can buy other versions of the story on Amazon!

The Great Indian Novel. Wild, funny, irreverent remix mashing up the Mahabharata with much more recent Indian history. Probably requires at least some prior familiarity with both the original and the Indian Independence Movement.

The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering: Vol 1,v.2: A Modern Rendering: 1 and The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Vol 2. Er. This really is worth the price. A sexy, lush, sometimes overwritten, but always vivid and involving retelling. If amazon doesn't work, abebooks.com should.

Mahabharata. A less modern style, but one of the most emotionally engaging versions I've come across. If your heart doesn't break for her Karna, you probably don't have one. I bet abebooks.com has a cheaper copy than amazon.
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu 2009-04-08 15:59 (UTC)(link)
The first vol. of the "Modern Rendering" version is here at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Mahabharata-Modern-Rendering-Vol-1/dp/0595401872

I see the author also also has a _Ramayana_ retelling, do you know anything about it? http://www.amazon.com/Ramayana-Modern-Retelling-Great-Indian/dp/0865476950

[identity profile] rparvaaz.livejournal.com 2009-04-23 14:59 (UTC)(link)
Menon's Ramayana isn't that great. The MB is pretty good, even though he doesn't really paint the Kauravas with shades of ambiguity - they are definitely evil in his version.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2009-04-23 17:54 (UTC)(link)
Do you have a rec for a translation of the Ramayana, by the way?