Review: The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I’ll be honest this book wasn’t on my TBR and reading it was a rather spontaneous decision. It is a retelling of the Mahabharata which is a major Indian epic that is at its core, the tale of a devastating war between two clans- the Kauravas and Pandavas. It’s a very detailed, intricate tale so I’d suggest looking up the characters and understanding the basic storyline before reading this book. I never explored the genre of mythological texts much before and that’s why I only had a loose idea of what the Mahabharata was about. That was until I came across a more philosophical explanation of it and realized that this story has more than meets the eye.

For those unfamiliar with the epic: the Pandavas are five brothers and cousins to the Kauravas. A multitude of events and instances of betrayal causes a civil war between the two. The duration of this war is filled with revelations, acts of love and sacrifice and interludes of mythical stories. Moreover, it is a wonderful description of Indian culture and traditions. Keep in mind, the original book is huge and this novel talks of more of the main events and offers a new perspective on this compelling tale. It is narrated from the point of view of Panchaali, wife of the five Pandava brothers and a very important part of the epic. Although there have been various tv shows, movies and interpretations of the Mahabharata, they are for the most part male-centric. But, Panchaali plays a very crucial role in this war and she has such an interesting, unique history too. This is my mom’s favourite book and she has been urging me to read it, but I refused thinking it wasn’t my cup of tea(sorry mom).

However, when I found out the distinctive perspective this book offers and that Panchaali was no damsel in distress but an outspoken, fierce and opinionated queen,(literally) I wanted to read this book immediately. If you can’t tell already, I loved it and my mom had an ‘I told you so’ moment. Anyway, it’s surprising that Panchaali’s viewpoints haven’t been explored much before because she was the immediate cause of the war and in general, a female character not only known for her prophesized birth, but her inquisitive nature and drive to push boundaries and enter places reserved for men in ancient India. However, the thing that sets her apart and makes her known across lands is that she is queen of the Pandavas.

Throughout the book, Panchaali expresses her desire to make a name for herself and to go down in history as someone who was revolutionary or different. As her name Panchaali goes, she was one of a kind living in a time where only kings have several wives all at once. Becoming this legend of sorts is only the beginning of a lifetime of instances where she indirectly influences major events of the Mahabharata. Panchaali has some dialogue or history with almost all male characters in the book, she advises some and seeks advice from some. These moments, even if they don’t play a part in driving the story forward are still at the back of her head and we see how they affect her when those characters are on a battlefield fighting for their lives.

The author also highlights some other background female characters equally interesting as Panchaali. These women made a difference in their way and it’s great the way they all come together at the end. If there’s an emotion I noticed was very well put forth in this novel, it was regret. Panchaali often forgot the consequences of her actions in pursuit of her ambitions and these consequences would return to haunt her. Chitra Banerjee brought something new to the table in her portrayal of Panchaali’s deepest desire playing out unexpectedly. She wanted to make her mark on history and she did, but by starting a war. Towards the end, she has an almost apologetic tone as she never wanted for so many lives to be lost, women to be widowed and survivors left forlorn and regretful.

Final thoughts~ This book had a bittersweet, beautiful ending. Though mythological it is very versatile and has some great lessons to teach no matter where you’re from. The title particularly intrigued me because I couldn’t figure why the Palace of Illusions which is the name given to the extraordinary palace Panchaali inhabited, was particularly important. I think it’s meant to be symbolic because this palace was the first place she ever belonged, was ever happy and when the war and devastation began in her life; the palace, the crux of her joy was something she never saw again. I could go on about this book, but I’d rather you read it and understand where I’m coming from. I want to explore more of this genre because mythological stories are truly timeless!

“A situation in itself, is neither happy nor unhappy. It’s only your response to it that causes your sorrow.”

~Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Palace of Illusions.

There’s a Million Musicals I haven’t watched… But just You Wait

First of all, props to me for being spontaneous! I had a post on another topic in the works but this felt more like my vibe today. (Don’t worry the other one’s coming soon too) So, unlike most fans of musicals, I didn’t like them at first. I felt like most musical aficionados (though I still wouldn’t call myself one) were the ones performing renditions of classic songs since they could form sentences, because that’s the very image people have in their minds- a group of Broadway crazy theatre kids or weirdly talented high schoolers. (Glee; even though you’re an amazing show, this is your fault) But that’s not true, a musical theatre fan can be someone who didn’t fully comprehend them until she watched Sound of Music in the fifth grade (I know). Soon after, I discovered more movie musicals like Mamma Mia and West Side Story, and I wasn’t as compelled by them as I am now but I knew musicals were something I enjoyed watching.

Before we move on– On 28th September, A Writ Much completed one year of being on WordPress! I love writing on here so much and interacting with my readers. Thanks everyone who’s supported and followed my blog this past year!

Coming back to musicals, let me tell you about the day I like to call my ‘enlightenment’. To my great dismay, I am not a thespian and even though I’d like to be Idina Menzel I’m her raspy alter ego. For this reason, I stuck to lip-synching while seeing musicals. that was of course before I discovered… Hamilton (I’m hearing a round of applause and cheering in my mind right now, even as I write this). I used to wish my love for musicals hadn’t started with a musical as renowned and popular as Hamilton. You know, it could have been an underappreciated but artistic and perceptive musical like The Light in the Piazza (look it up and watch it immediately). But then I realised, what could be more profound, distinctive and confounding than Hamilton?! Ironically, I don’t remember the exact month but it was the day after it came out that one of my best friends suggested we watch it. And my god were we left in awe. After this, I watched it two more times and soon, I was watching all the interviews, belting Satisfied and You’ll Be Back, reading about the hidden messages and loopholes, the history behind the lyrics and characters. The rest is… well history!

An accurate depiction of what my mind looked like after Hamilton

The reason why Hamilton is sort of a milestone and a musical I will always remember vividly is because I was so exceptionally bored then, at the beginning of the pandemic that it was an experience! Reading the endless Hamilton sources on the web and having the epiphany that musicals are more than a bunch of people singing. Broadway isn’t a piece of cake because writing music, a story through music and carefully crafted lyrics is as consuming and challenging as writing a book or a play or a movie. Hamilton was the beginning of this fascinating journey through a field I’d never taken seriously before and I haven’t invested myself in a musical as much after that because well, the sad fact is that I don’t have time to spare peeping behind the curtains (see what I did there) anymore. But, I do watch new musicals whenever I can and read a good amount about them.

I couldn’t stop at Hamilton of course so, I’ve come up with a plan all to discover the magical world of musicals. I started with movie musicals as they were just easier to access. After some quick research, I had a watchlist ready in my notes app, quite a bit behind on that right now but as soon as I can sit and devote two hours (three, let’s not forget rewinding so I can listen to ingenious lyrics) to a musical, I will be unstoppable. I began with basics like In The Heights (2021), then Hairspray (2007), Les Misérables (2012), Rent (2005) and the list continues in chronological order.

But, I couldn’t forget stage musicals that are a whole new world. I’m having a much harder time sourcing them so thus far, I’ve only seen two- one being Dear Evan Hansen just last month. The latest musical I watched was Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (2021) which is wildly underrated, why is the internet not as excited about it as they are about Cinderella??! I guess I’d just like to end this post by saying that, you might consider musicals boring and stupid but there’s a reason people keep making them. Musicals amplify any emotion you feel and when you’re in the grip of that emotion, hearing that song is a freeing feeling. No matter who you are, musicals make you the main character. So, the next time someone can’t stop talking about their love for musicals, don’t rain on their parade. Once you discover the tip of the iceberg we call musical theatre, you can’t stop singing about it.

What’s Trending?

From boxed braids to messy buns, from tie-dye shirts to ripped jeans and from hoop earrings to mismatched ones, fashion has truly seen it all. Since its origin fashion has really evolved. It now has the power to make a statement and is often significant of your beliefs. How you dress defines who you are and even though we may not like it, we are deemed a certain way by what we wear. If you’re a celebrity or someone who’s in the public eye where every move you make is scrutinized, the right outfit can get you to the highest places. However, the wrong outfit can put you on the front page of a gossip magazine. Either way, fashion is a huge part of our lives, of how society perceives us.

Essentially, fashion comes down to clothes and materialistic items, but nothing can be as simple as that. Everything has layers, doesn’t it? Similarly, designers, influencers and other flagbearers of fashion keep us on edge with various new styles and trends. ‘Trends’ especially fuel the fashion industry and are the reason for so much of the waste that it produces daily. Trends have been around since the invention of magazines and digital media which connected the world. It’s a fact universally known that human beings are drawn to fitting in. We would rather dress like the rest than stick out like a sore thumb with an individual style. Most brands veer towards keeping what’s in trend in their stores because it’s what sells!

The word ‘trend’ itself originally meant a ‘general course or direction’ in the 1800s and slowly became used to describe ‘a prevailing new tendency in popular fashion or culture’ in the 1950s. So, trends are incredibly restricting and boring if you come to think about them. For instance, when imitating trends of the 2000s or 90s, only particular items of clothing are taken into consideration and bunched together under the term ‘trends’ when there could be so many diverse and unique styles that aren’t looked at because they aren’t featured in movies, tv shows or magazines because again, they only looked at what was trending.

The psychology of trends comes down to something appropriately described by the phrase: ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. According to research, in the Elizabethan era and the 1600s: a trend often began when a king or queen dressed a certain way. Then, following a trend meant you were loyal to royalty and were well informed of your King/Queen’s words. We see the same pattern today, as following a trend means you know what’s ‘in’ or what’s ‘out’. It reflects upon the fact that you are someone who is up to date on pop culture and ‘keeps up with the Kardashians’.

Trends were also mostly followed by those at the very top of society that is, royals and nobles. There remains to this day in the 21st century, a similar class divide, where your clothes are seen as a symbol of which strata of society you belong to. Royals translate to celebrities, fashion bloggers, people in politics and others who are seen wearing a trend on the front page. Meanwhile, the nobles watch them and follow in their Prada- adorned footsteps.

Trends not only condemn innovation but stifle an individual’s creativity and dictate their self-worth on superficial lines. They also create so much waste in terms of resources and wealth. Trends literally originate from a sense of general direction and change overnight. Trends often make people feel bad about what they don’t have or who they aren’t like. They gave rise to terms like ‘fast fashion’ and ‘conspicuous consumption’. Obsessively keeping up with what’s ‘in’ or ‘out’ is letting fashion own you when it should be you dictating what you want to wear. Do you know the saying, ”a human being is a single being. Unique and unrepeatable.”? Trends oppose that in every manner.

Read more about fashion trends and their influence in the links below.

SOURCES:

What Fashion Trends Really Represent

Fashion Trends and the Psychology behind them

Theories Of Fashion

Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a note-worthy work of fiction featuring two journeys that are both extremely different yet similar in some ways. Although the main focus is a love-story, it branches into so much more giving us well-rounded, brilliant but flawed characters. It shows us what finding your place in the world looks like and that it isn’t the destination, rather the journey. This is peppered with insights on racism, immigration and politics which are narrated through the characters’ experiences. The book is centered around Ifemelu and Obinze, who meet and fall in love in high school in Nigeria.

The characters are deep and multifaceted for they’re predictable yet unpredictable. They i.e the author expresses things that seem profound but you realize that these observations are so obviously visible in our world. The characters are my favorite part. Ifemelu, our opinionated ‘Americanah’ is a Nigerian woman who is uncomfortably frank at times and dares to question everything. We then have Obinze, her first love, sort of the only one who could stand Ifemelu’s hotheadedness and pushed her to think ahead. Both characters are very similar in terms of their ideologies and most of all their aspirations. Growing up in Nigeria, Ifemelu and Obinze are happy but always longing for more. They talk about how it wasn’t only them but everyone in Nigeria who was conditioned to believe that prosperity, happiness and ‘the good life’ is found outside of Nigeria. However, both set out only to find that even outside of Nigeria ‘the good life’ isn’t found easily. Halfway through college, Ifemelu has enough of the protests and political instability in Nigeria and applies to a university in America. Obinze sets out years later but to the UK instead, unable to get a visa he lives an undocumented life.

There’s a consecutive struggle and depressing period for both characters on eventually settling in and it’s inspiring to see them fight through it. Ifemelu’s life in America is filled with self-discovery, great people with interesting personalities and her uncovering truths about racism. She talks a lot about the difference between being an American Black and a Non-American Black in America. These parts were truly eye-opening and brought light to a phenomenon so relevant to today’s America. These insights have been woven into the story seamlessly so don’t seem educational or preachy but a mere thought of the character. I enjoyed seeing America through Ifemelu’s eyes.

Another focus of the book is immigration in both America and England. Both places have different histories and reputations which leads to the two characters’ having contrasting experiences as well. In America, Ifemelu’s story mainly deals with racism. Her race is seen as a barrier in everything she wants to accomplish. She acknowledges Black hair politics, the Obama administration and in general America’s race divide. Obinze in London on the other hand, lives in constant fear of being deported. The author also describes the saddening lengths he has to go to in order to get his papers. Apart from them, the many terrors of immigration are shown in the form of other characters like friends and family members. The book really highlights how immigration begins to define you and remains a sword hanging above your head.

The main storyline however, is that Ifemelu and Obinze eventually return to Nigeria. Both are altered by what they’ve faced. We see how Nigeria to them is a symbol of comfort, of one another and a place where they finally find what they were looking for.

Americanah is a story of discovery, of facing your fears and of staying true to your roots. Some say it’s a classic immigrant story and maybe it is, but I think it is more of a modern take on it. Even if the characters struggled and faced what might seem like things you’ve read about before, isn’t that a sign that there needs to be change?

Final thoughts~ With reference to the name, ‘Americanah’ is what people call Ifemelu when she returns to Nigeria. It’s a reference to the fact that her persona is now Americanized and her perspective has changed. But, Ifemelu proudly takes on the title. I think it’s also a reference to the fact that America not only impacted her, but changed those around her for the better. That being said, this book is full of witty remarks and strong-willed characters with lots to say. It’s the kind of book which asks the hard questions and pushes you to ask them. After this, I’m looking forward to reading more of Chimamanda Adichie’s work!

“Why did people ask, ‘What is it about?’ as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Pages Feature: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Thoughts on Americanah

Book Review- Americanah

The Mystery Blogger Award

Last week I was nominated for two awards by the amazing Tia from Tall Blonde Tales! Go check her blog out, she writes some great posts which are definitely worth the read! Tia’s been a wonderful blogging peer from the start and I was super excited to be nominated by her. She’s also initiating Blogmas on her blog so check that out too! So, thanks Tia for the nominations. Anyway, I was nominated for the Mystery Blogger and Liebster Award and since I want to focus on both, this will be a two-part awards post. Onto the Mystery Blogger Award!

“The Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.
– Okoto Enigma

Source- https://www.okotoenigmasblog.com/my-greatest-creation-yet/

Rules:

  1. Put the award logo/ image on your blog
  2. List the rules
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
  5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  6. Nominate other bloggers of your choice
  7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
  8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)
  9. Share a link to your best post(s)

3 things about myself:

  1. I can eat sushi for breakfast everyday if you ask me to.
  2. Sketching is my go-to during writers’ block.
  3. I’m one of those teens who’s crazy about her parents. (I mean, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m one of those rare ones :))

My best posts:

I’ve loved writing all my posts but if I had to pick favorites I think The Bechdel Test: A Call for Representation for it was a topic that I’d spent months thinking about and finally sharing my thoughts on it felt great. In terms of book reviews, I would pick Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee because it was not only an exceptional book which I enjoyed reviewing, but it also featured some of my best writing in my opinion!

Tall Blonde Tales’ Questions:

What have you done this week that made you feel good about yourself? 

Especially this year, anytime I complete the tasks lined up on my to-do list is when I feel the most accomplished. I’m proud to say that I successfully managed to check off everything on my list this week and it sure does feel good.

What were the last 5 emojis you used? 

💜🙈😟😍🤷‍♀

Describe the most embarrassing incident of your life.

Sports and I, don’t exactly get along, but that never stopped me from playing them whenever I got the chance to! So, once some friends asked if I’d like to join them in a game of football. Now, I didn’t and still don’t know how to play. Yet, I agreed and went on to play with utmost confidence- the stars weren’t in my favour. Throughout the game, I scored goals for the other team, kicked the ball off the field and I’m pretty sure ‘the weather’ wasn’t the reason the game ended early. Gosh, even writing about it makes me cringe in embarrassment.

What is your best achievement in blogging till now? 

Undoubtedly, my best achievement has to be being nominated for the awards. I’m so glad I started my blog because I love writing for it and interacting with everyone on the blogosphere. But, the nomination is my best achievement.

[Weird question] If you could switch places with one actor in any scene in any movie/tv show, which would it be?

I would love to be Saoirse Ronan as Jo in Little Women. It’s one of my favorite movies for a lot of reasons- the cast, the plot and it was also the last movie I saw in a theatre before they were closed. Honestly, you can name any of her scenes in the movie and I’d happily switch places.

My Questions for my Nominees:

  1. If you could interview any famous person (a celebrity, an author, a world leader even an activist) who would it be?
  2. What’s the first thing on your bucket list?
  3. What motivated you to start your blog?
  4. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
  5. [Weird Question] Would you rather be in a musical on Broadway or part of an acapella group?

Finally, my Nominees:

Banter Republic

My Healthy and Wealthy Life

Fun With Philosophy

Caffeinated Fae

Yuvi’s Buzz

My One Penny Wisdom

I enjoyed writing this awards post and can’t wait to read my nominees’ answers to my questions, and learn more about them as well!

Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles is a historical fiction that features the retelling of the story of one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology: Achilles from the point of view of his most ardent admirer, Patroclus. If you’re familiar with Homer’s ‘Illiad’, you probably know of Achilles and Patroclus. Achilles- the prophesied warrior, best of the Greeks and a man who was idolized throughout his life. Patroclus- quite the opposite, an exile who was mostly deemed a coward because he abhorred the battlefield. There’s not much mythology tells us about Patroclus. I think the situation is so because he wasn’t a warrior, and lived in a society which then revolved around war, regarding any other qualities in a man insignificant. But Patroclus never wanted to be in the spotlight. We see how in the book too, he hardly draws any attention to himself.

I was skeptical about reading this book at first, having never been too fond of Achilles according to what I’d read about him. But Patroclus’ narration is such a refreshing perspective that it changed the way I saw Achilles, it even made me feel sorry for him. Mythology only saw Achilles as a fearless, skilled warrior and a ruthless savior. But Patroclus saw him as more than that. He knew Achilles before anyone cared about him. While most stories only talk about Achilles during the Trojan War, this book begins when he was still a child. When Patroclus was first exiled to Phthia, the kingdom of which Achilles was prince.

Patroclus loved him for many reasons. Achilles befriended him when nobody would, he always said what he meant. While others longed for that twisted game they called honour- he didn’t care about it. He pushed Patroclus to embrace himself for who he was. The book names countless other reasons as to why he stuck by him and they’ve been expressed almost poetically to the extent that I wanted to read them again and again. One of the biggest things I realized from reading this is that Patroclus shaped Achilles to be who he was during the Trojan War. It seemed like he was not only his confidante but conscience, shaping his actions and making him the hero everyone loved. Without Patroclus, Achilles would’ve been lost, and he was.

I was curious to see how the story would move along after Patroclus’ death. According to the Illiad, revenge for Patroclus’ death was the reason Achilles went on a killing spree and ultimately ended the Trojan War. The last few chapters of the book are heartbreaking, when Patroclus watches Achilles as a spirit, begging him to stop. The Illiad’s focus on the Trojan War was to show the loss, grief, and suffering war causes. The Song of Achilles also highlights the same because the Trojan War changed Achilles and Patroclus’ lives. The two were unwilling to go in the first place.

After I read this, I wondered why classics like the Illiad and stories of heroes like Achilles and the world he lived in, are still relevant today? But that could be asked of any classic or epic. Maybe it’s because they gave rise to ideas which we continue to value today, or love stories and figures we can still idolize. For instance, Patroclus’ longing to fit in, how the Greeks would do anything to maintain their honour and pride, their belief in togetherness and numbers, wars over differences. I can’t figure out if that’s the world refusing to learn from history or just the way it’s meant to be.

Final thoughts~ I love that the author sheds light on storylines and characters which are mostly ignored in the classics. They add a new perspective instead of the monotonous ones. Instead of descriptions of the battlefield and bloodshed we get to read about the atmosphere on the sidelines, where wives and workers anxiously waited for the war to end. I strongly suggest this book even if you’re unfamiliar with Greek mythology because the author provides sufficient background.

“Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another. We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows?”

                                                                        -Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles- Book Review

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller