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THE PALACE OF ILLUSIONS (2008)

Relevant to today’s war-torn world, The Palace of Illusions takes us back to the time of the Indian epic The Mahabharat—a time that is half-history, half-myth, and wholly magical. Through her narrator Panchaali, the wife of the legendary five Pandavas brothers, Divakaruni gives us a rare feminist interpretation of an epic story. 

The novel traces Panchaali’s life, beginning with her magical birth in fire as the daughter of a king before following her spirited balancing act as a woman with five husbands who have been cheated out of their father’s kingdom. Panchaali is swept into their quest to reclaim their birthright, remaining at the brothers’ sides through years of exile and a terrible civil war. Meanwhile, we never lose sight of her stratagems to take over control of her household from her mother-in-law, her complicated friendship with the enigmatic Krishna, or her secret attraction to the mysterious man who is her husband’s most dangerous enemy. Panchaali is a fiery female voice in a world of warriors, gods, and ever-manipulating hands of fate.

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Praise for The Palace of Illusions:

“An intimate, feminine portrait that is both contemporary and timeless; an ambitious project effectively executed.” (Kirkus) 

“A lyrical tale imbued with the scent of ancient incense yet . . . rooted in modern day relevancy.” (Book Page)

“A rich tale of passion and love, power and weakness, honor and humiliation. Whether or not readers are familiar with the Mahabharat epic, they will enjoy this entertaining, insightful and suspenseful story.” (Library Journal, starred review)

“The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is as sprawling and bright a gem as the Hope Diamond – a mythic tale brimming with warriors, magic and trachery (and its brother, deceit)…. Who better to attempt the feat of transforming a centuries-old cultural icon into a personal, modern story than Divakaruni, a professor of English at the University of Houston and author of numerous award-winning works, including the luscious novel The Mistress of Spices and the bestselling Sister of my Heart.  Divakaruni’s sentences dazzle; the images she creates are masterful….”  (Los Angeles Times)

“Panchaali’s narrative provides a radient entrée into an ancient mythology virtually unknown to the Western world. Divakaruni’s impulse to flesh out the women of the Mahabharat results in a charming and remarkable book.” (The Houston Chronicle)

“Your truly epic narrative myth calls for bitter experience descending, avalanche-like, down dynasties, incorporating dramatic turning points of ineradicable impact; curses; looming fates; tricky and meddlesome gods; feuds; sages, sorcerers and wars. These elements and many more are found in abundance in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s new novel, The Palace of Illusions, which ambitiously encapsulates the Indian epic “Mahabharat” within a 360-page novel.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“The Palace of Illusions…is as grand and tragic as the epic poems by Homer. The story is complex, as political relationships grow and develop, and friends and enemies are created, leading to battles and wars that will eventually destroy them all…I was captivated by the tragic storyline and the fate into which Panchaali was born. This admirable attempt to recreate the epic Mahabharat from the viewpoint of a strong woman is Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s best work yet.” (Bookreporter.com)

“Vivid and inventive. . . . rich, action-filled. . . complex.” (Publisher’s Weekly)

“For more than 20 years now, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has been telling stories of Indian women from her home in California. Her women are desperate, wonderful, complicated, lyrical, memorable, even magical…. Chitra’s women experience love, loss and longing through tangled marriages, bitter divorces, childbirth, abortion, abuse, violence, racism, poverty and riches. Now, in a daring novel out this month, Divakaruni returns to a fantastic world, inhabited by kings, queens, villains and sorcerers.” (Vogue India)

Review from Sanskrit Literature