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.

My 5 Go-To Podcasts

Podcasts are something I’ve recently gotten into. I first came across them when one of my favourite YouTubers, Colleen Ballinger launched her podcast and I decided to check it out. In doing so, I discovered a new community full of creators I had never heard of before. This was in May 2020 and I had pretty much exhausted my resources of Pinterest, Instagram and WordPress, so I was looking for something new to pass the time. Podcasts are the same as blogs or YouTube, they are available in multiple genres and I had so many to pick from. It took me some trial and error to find some great podcasters but I think a year later, I’ve listened to enough podcasts to blog about my favourite ones.

Sometimes, I’ll explore the latest suggestions on the app but these 5 I listen to every week without fail:

  1. You Can Sit With Us

I enjoy watching The Try Guys on YouTube and You Can Sit With Us is one of the podcasts on their channel. This is such a fun weekly podcast and it has more of light-hearted content. The hosts Maggie, Becky and Ariel talk about female friendships, current events and just everyday things or what they’ve been thinking about and their lives. Some episodes have guests and those touch on some gripping topics and are very insightful. I love listening to them because the episodes are relatable and funny and I think it has something that can make everyone smile. You can really pick any episode to start with but two of my favourites are Addressing The TikTok Middle Part Controversy and Post-Pandemic Bucket Lists

2. Stuff You Should Know

This podcast is on the informative side. The episodes cover and reveals facts about stuff you didn’t possibly think could have another side. I saw this podcast’s episode about the Stonewall Uprising on my explore page and have been hooked since then. The hosts Josh and Chuck go into detail about each topic without making it a lecture and still manage to keep it entertaining. You can dive into almost any episode with no prior knowledge of the topic and will still have a clear idea of what they’re talking about because they explain its background well. I find myself listening with intense concentration anytime I put on this podcast. My top two episodes are How Auto-Tune Works and The Ivy League.

3. Guilty Pleasures

I follow Kelsey Darragh and I didn’t know she had a podcast before this! Her content is hilarious and that wit and hilarity is taken to the nth degree in this podcast. Kelsey along with hosts Zach and Garrick talk about their favourite ‘guilty pleasure’ movies and TV shows and about its cringe-factors as well as its underrated aspects and finally, why it’s a guilty pleasure. This podcast is incredibly entertaining and each episode has a movie/ TV show that is kind of a classic and its impossible that you haven’t watched them or at least know about them. The podcast has guests like Lana Condor and Elle Mills among others and its a relatively new podcast but I can’t wait to see what they have planned. My favourites include LaurDIY loves Pitch Perfect and Elle Mills loves The Lizzie McGuire Movie.

4. After Hour Happy Hour

I actually came across this podcast on my Instagram explore page where I saw a snippet of one of their episodes and it was the real talk that made me subscribe immediately. In this podcast, the hosts Jamila, Sharon and Vicky like to unwind and recount amusing stories, random everyday things and are all about manifestation. I love their Conversation Starters and Music Session episodes because its fun to hear their very realistic opinions on things. I suggest starting from the first episode for this podcast just because some are in parts and its better when you’re listening in order. The best episodes for me are Growing Up Asian and MBTI Personality Test.

5. The Book Club Review

For the last one, I listen to various podcasts about books but I like this one the best. I take inspiration for my book reviews from here too, how to analyze the books I read and what questions to ask of them. The hosts Katie and Laura talk about the books they’ve been reading in their book clubs and review them. They touch on what they thought of them, did the books spark interesting conversation and in general whether they loved or were let down by the book. However, the ultimate question is, was it a good book club book? I think this podcast is really great in terms of suggestions and even the fact that they talk about what’s on their bookshelf and personal opinions of the book. My top two episodes would be The Postal Book Club and The Booker Prize 2020.

So, that’s my top five podcasts! I’m always looking for more to listen to so tell me about some of your favourites and what you think about these five if you’ve heard any of them!