For readers eager to escape their humdrum existence via fiction immersed in magic, mysticism and myth, The Palace of Illusions is sure to please. Inspired by ancient Indian legends hailing from the Third Age of Man, storyteller Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has cast her heroine Panchaali in flesh, blood and fire, a woman poised at the epicenter of history, never to be upstaged by her male counterparts, be they fathers or brothers, lovers, husbands or friends.
While the epic poem "Mahabharat" was an inspiration for The Palace of Illusions, Divakaruni was determined that the women inhabiting her novel would not be content to linger in the periphery of a man's world, as they did in the original work. Thus, Panchaali was born, and in Divakaruni's deft hands, illuminates a tale of what could perhaps best be described as the Armageddon of in-law problems: being married to five men, the powerful Pandav princes.
Although the novel is set sometime between 6000 BCE and 5000 BCE, the myriad quagmires sinking today's marriages are not unknown to Panchaali, a passionate princess who, like many contemporary women, is torn between time-honored traditions and an independent spirit. As Panchaali ponders divine wisdom, she struggles to reconcile what she has been told by her elders with what her heart knows to be true. Despite being burdened by the matrimonial albatross of five husbands, Panchaali is no man-hater, and on the contrary, finds the women in her life to be equally, if not more difficult, to appease, and above all, to trust.
Divakaruni has woven a lyrical tale imbued with the scent of ancient incense, yet simultaneously rooted in modern-day relevancy. Brimming with betrayals, religious fervor and war-torn streets, The Palace of Illusions is a journey experienced from the vantage point of Panchaali, a powerful woman driven by love, honor and, in the end, a fate that unfolds despite her resolve.
Karen Ann Cullotta is a journalism instructor at Roosevelt University in Chicago.