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.

From: [identity profile] spectralbovine.livejournal.com

Ooh! I have heard this woman's name before but didn't really know anything about her books. Wait, I think she teaches creative writing at the University of Houston and my friend Ravi likes her.

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.
That sounds like something that would bug me too.

The book sounds interesting. Maybe I'll look into it after I get around to reading the Mahabharata.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

Maybe you should read this first! (On the principle that you'd probably get to it sooner.)

Divakaruni is a terrific writer. I've read four or five of her books, I think, and liked all of them.

From: [identity profile] spectralbovine.livejournal.com

Ha, you're right, I would definitely get to it sooner. My queueueueue grows longer every day (no thanks to you, I might add).

Divakaruni is one of the Famous Indian Writers I know. Others include Arundhati Roy and Jhumpa Lahiri (the only one I've actually read).

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

I forget, how much of the Mahabharata story do you actually know? Because if you've absorbed it via osmosis, you could also read another sort-of retelling, Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel, which is a mash-up of the MB with the story of the Indian Independence movement. It's really wild and funny and irreverent and smart - right up your alley. But you do need to know who the characters are before you start.

From: [identity profile] spectralbovine.livejournal.com

I read the kiddie version when I was younger. The one that was maybe a hundred pages long. And maybe I read some comics? And, of course, I've seen some of the TV version with the hilarious arrows. I do know the basic story and characters, but it's been yeeears, and about the only thing I remember is that Bhima has a mace and Yudistira is...the leader or something? I had to look up his name because all I knew was that it started with a Y. And Arjuna has a bow. And someone has a neverending sari. Draupadi? I might need a refresher if I attempt a retelling before reading the telling.

I think you or someone else mentioned The Great Indian Novel in that post I wrote before; I WILL ALSO ADD IT TO THE LIST GEEZ SO MANY BOOKS.

From: [identity profile] tekalynn.livejournal.com

Draupadi has the never-ending sari, courtesy of a miracle of God.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter

Wait, really? that sounds awesome! Maybe i will try that and hope the bits of the MB you tell me will be enough. I looove remixes.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

Just read up a bit on the Indian Independence Movement, enough so that you know the personalities of the major historical figures at the time, like Gandhi, Nehru, Mountbatten, Jinnah, and (later but relevant to the book) Indira Gandhi.

Wait! Here's a handy chart cross-referencing everyone! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Indian_Novel#Characters_in_.22The_Great_Indian_Novel.22

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com

This is jumping right up to the top of my to-read list. (Boy are the mountains of other books going to grumble.)

Thanks for the recommendation--sounds very, very good.

ETA: Just reserved it through our interlibrary loan system AND asked my husband to check the local university library for the Kamala Subramaniam translation of the Mahabharata that you were recommending to [livejournal.com profile] lnhammer. Mmm, can't wait.

From: [identity profile] movingfinger.livejournal.com

I've liked her other writing, so I'll look for this one soon.

Re: high-highs, low-lows; essentially she's like an opera character, living in vast passions (indeed all the Mahabharata characters are larger than life and twice as real), so flattening that out to make her more "human" or more like a contemporary woman is a mistake.

Making her secretly in love with Karna is a great idea---for one thing, it emphasizes his dual nature and his conflicts!

I wonder whether the nice bookstore down the street has this...

From: [identity profile] rparvaaz.livejournal.com

Haven't read it yet. Think I'll pick it up this w/e - it can be Koko's b'day gift to me. :)

Have you read Mrityunjaya? Sawant did a brilliant job of Draupadi-Karna romance. It remains one of the most poignant relationships I have ever encountered...

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

I have, and I think on your recommendation. It's indeed very poignant, and very intense. Though I was a bit jarred by Duryodhan's pink eyes, unless that was a translation error.

I'd definitely like to hear your thoughts on Palace of Illusions.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] larryhammer

Do you have a recommended translation of the Mahabharata? Bonus points if it's in poetry, but it need not be. I've been meaning to read it straight up instead of in summaries for a while now.


From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

OH HELL YES. Just ETA'd entry. I think the one you'd like best is the Kamala Subramaniam.

Sorry, all in prose. I do own a verse version, but... er... I haven't actually read it yet.

From: [identity profile] goldenflames.livejournal.com

The amazing thing is, my Dad actually read it, and liked it, and went around trying to discuss it with us for days afterward.

I think my favorite moment is when Arjuna, Subhadra, Draupadi, and a few others (I forget if anyone else was there) are standing on a hill at Kurukshetra, and Arjuna reaches out to tuck a stray lock of hair behind Subhadra's ear, and Draupadi nearly has a jealous moment, but realizes that she never acts like Subhadra, so she can't expect to be treated like Subhadra.

Pretty much sums up their relationship right there.

I really liked the way she did the Draupadi/Krishna relationship. And the Karna/Draupadi relationship.... *sigh* Now there's a story.

From: [identity profile] tekalynn.livejournal.com

Wow. That moment right there convinces me that I want to read this book.

From: [identity profile] goldenflames.livejournal.com

Draupadi does have quite a few awesome introspective moments like that, which is definitely nice, because most other versions tend to leave that out.

From: [identity profile] jinian.livejournal.com

I remember really liking this when I read it last year, and I didn't have much familiarity with the story at the time. The Karna thing worked well, but the moment I remember is when one of those other guys lied about it being Arjuna she loved best.

(Now watch, I have completely misremembered it somehow.)
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu

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

From: [identity profile] rparvaaz.livejournal.com

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.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

Do you have a rec for a translation of the Ramayana, by the way?
boundbooks: A colorful illustration of a blue octopus reading a book, while sitting next to a stack of books and a tea cup. (books: octopus reads)

From: [personal profile] boundbooks

Just wanted to let you know that I read this on your recommendation. It was great! I was only loosely familiar with the story before, having encountered it a couple of times in children's story compilations and a couple of rough summaries in folklore/mythology books. I liked the Panchaali/Karna thread, I thought it was quite well done; my favorite scene for the two of them was probably when they both showed up for that big welcoming party in plain white clothes. Such an emotional moment, especially when Panchaali realizes that she's accidentally stolen the show. :D

edit - It also looks like there's a cheaper, paperback version of the two-volume Menon retelling that's come out since your original post. A good thing too, since it looks like first volume of the 2006 edition is out of print!

Edited Date: 2011-06-12 12:07 am (UTC)

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