I had high hopes for Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions, which purports to tell the story of the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, through the eyes of one of its most important female characters, Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandava princes. Unfortunately, I felt that Divakaruni did little more than narrate the high points of the epic itself in a first-person narrative; indeed sometimes, it seemed that Divakaruni wanted to have things both ways, so she “cheats” on Draupadi’s POV by giving her second-sight at one point in the novel so she can participate in events where she’s not physically present or having other people narrate things to Draupadi that she (but not the reader) would presumably be familiar with anyway.
The major problem I had with the novel, though, is that I never actually got to hear anything I’d really love to know about from Draupadi’s point of view. How Draupadi feels about having five husbands and the accommodations they all have to make to this rather unusual arrangement is glossed over rather quickly, and Draupadi’s supposed great, tragic love for Karna never seems like anything more than a kind of adolescent idealization of what she can’t have.
With all that, the last chapter is lovely and made me cry!
(Read from March 15-18, 2010)