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] 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...
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] 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] 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.)
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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