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Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Palace of Illusions - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Read for the Really Old Classics Challenge.

The extra credit assignment for the Really Old Classics Challenge is to read a retelling of a classic. The Palace of Illusions is a retelling of the events in the Mahabharata, one of the great epic works of ancient India, and a major work of Hindu mythology.

The Mahabharata is mostly concerned with the dynastic fights between the Kaurava and Pandava families for the throne of Hastinapura. These men are cousins, so it’s a story of family alliances and betrayals, interspersed with the consequences of the interference of the gods with the affairs of these men. It’s an absolutely fascinating story. (I have to admit to only a cursory familiarity with ancient Indian history/mythology, so the story was all fresh to me, which it certainly wouldn’t be to a Hindu reader.)

This book has parallels to The Mists of Avalon, as the author has taken one of the female characters, Panchaali, the wife of the five (yes, five) Pandava brothers, and told the story through her eyes. I know how I felt about reading the Arthurian legend through the lens of the women in the story, and I imagine the experience of reading this book is similar if you’re steeped in the background story. Panchaali is not always sympathetic, but her story is compelling, and pulled me through the book.

This is an absolutely lovely story, filled with beauty, and utter despair, and everything in between. I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to sample the literature of India, with a modern twist.

3 comments:

Jenn said...

I LOVE this book. Of course, I love all of her stuff :)

Megan said...

Yeah, I'm going to have to put more of her stuff on my list to read. I like her style.

Jenny Girl said...

This soudns lovely. I haven't read much Indian literature, if any at all, so this would be a good start. Thanks!