Book Review #1: The Palace of Illusions

By Anusha Goel, Batch of 2018

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“A woman born into a man’s world.”


What was it like to be born at the time when the greatest epic was being written, what was it like to be a woman in a man’s world and, above all, what was it like to be called the ‘reason’ behind the deadliest, the most onerous and treacherous of wars. This book answers it all from the voice of Draupadi, the epitome of beauty and justice.


Alright, quick questions. How many (mythological) ladies do you know of who followed polyandry, who lived their lives on their own terms, who were fearless yet gentle, who weren’t just dutiful wives and doting mothers, but opinionated queens as well? Well, there’s only one answer for me, Draupadi. This is exactly what sets her story apart from every other heroine in Indian mythology. She’s our own ‘Helen of Troy’.

The book doesn’t show her as the epitome of righteousness like all the leading ladies of Ekta Kapoor serials. Unlike them, she is demanding, she speaks her mind, she advises her husbands, and is vengeful for unforgivable things. The book isn’t just a retelling of the Mahabharata; it is more about her feelings, her fears, her deepest darkest desires, her vulnerabilities and, her love. One of the most memorable lines of the book is, ‘All she ever wanted was love’, and this perhaps, was the greatest irony of her life. She was never at the receiving end of unbounded love, be it from her father – King Dhrupad, or Arjuna – who married many a times thereafter, or her mysterious man.

Why you should read:

One of the most human traits of people is to always want what we don’t have. So it is with Draupadi. This book explores her human side as she yearns for all the normal, little pleasantries of life. The book has some surprising instances, like when the great sage Vyasa meets a young Draupadi; he cryptically warns her against all the major life situations she is going to face. The book also sketches her life after the gruesome war – her pain borne out of the death of her children, father and her beloved brother. It takes on her relationship with Krishna, who is portrayed as close as the breath that she inhales.

The language and the writing are beautiful. Banerjee creates magic with her words and don’t be surprised if you find yourself swaying with her portrayal of emotions. But, if you are a traditionalist looking for just another retelling of the Mahabharata, I would tell you to refrain from this piece for it is quite liberal with the portrayal of its’ characters. Also, if you are planning to save your efforts and take it as a capsule of Mahabharata, you will be disappointed. The book is a viewpoint and the journey of a character. It is not meant to cover the elaborate war with each detail.

The fundamental tenet of the book is about the first display of feminism in the course of Indian Mythology. This was the first time that a woman spoke out for herself and these were the words that she said, “Wait for a man to avenge your honor, and you will wait forever”. But human nature is timeless and, unfortunately, this statement is as true today as it was eons ago. It is exactly this point about the book which makes it so relevant to us today. It is no surprise that this book tops the bestseller list across the nation. End of the story, if you feel a void in your life to be filled by a masterpiece, I assure, you won’t regret this.