2019 Reading Challenge All About Books AtoZChallenge Book Review

Chitra Banerjee’s Rendition of Indian Epics

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a known name in Indian Literature, especially for her take on Indian epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Her re-tellings often have a strong female protagonist and profound elements of honor and duty. That is exactly what draws you to her books and makes you fall in love with her writing.

The Mistress of Spices

The very first book I read of Chitra Banerjee was ‘The Mistress of Spices’. This was one of the few books which I had read after watching the (Aishwarya Rai starrer) movie.

The Mistress of Spices is the story of a young woman named Tilo who uses her knowledge of spices as magical cure for ailments and sufferings of life. She meets a handsome man who she falls in love with. Now she has to choose between her ‘spice’ life and him! While the storyline was mystical and enthralling, it failed to capture my attention.

The Palace of Illusions

Years later, I heard rave reviews of her book- ‘The Palace of Illusions.’ Being a lover of Indian mythology, I picked it up. It was the retelling of Mahabharata through the eyes of Panchali – the wife of Pandavas. That storyline alone piqued my interest.

“Love comes like lightning, and disappears the same way. If you are lucky, it strikes you right. If not, you’ll spend your life yearning for a man you can’t have.” 

We know how the fire-born princess, the spirited young woman Princess Draupadi became the wife of five Pandavas. She was one of the few female characters who stood out in the epic – a woman who was the cause of the war, who had it all, yet had nothing.

“I am buoyant and expansive and uncontainable–but I always was so, only I never knew it!”

From being portrayed as a victim on almost all Mahabharata stories(and re-tellings), The Palace of Illusions was a refreshing take on the epic with emphasis on Panchali’s deepest thoughts and emotions – her relationship with her husbands, her mother-in-law and her infatuation with Karna who is hated by her husbands.

The narration steals the show and when I say it is one of my favorite books, you know how much I love it. I loved Draupadi’s relationship with Krishna and the love angle introduced between her and Karna.

“There was an unexpected freedom in finding out that one wasn’t as important as one had always assumed!”

The Palace of Illusions was published in 2009 and the gorgeous tenth anniversary edition (shown in the photograph) is now up for grabs.

The Forest of Enchantments

After about a decade long wait, Chitra Banerjee published her most-anticipated book, ‘The Forest of Enchantments’ which is a rendition of the Indian Epic Ramayana. Of course, the story of Sita isn’t new – a newborn found by the King of Mithila; married off to Ram; who had to tag along with her husband upon his exile of fourteen years; captured by the Asura King Ravan in the last leg of their banishment. She is rescued by Ram only to be banished again, this time by Ram himself to uphold his duty.

“How entangled love is with expectation, that poison vine! The stronger the expectation, the more the anger towards the beloved if he doesn’t fulfill it – and the less the control over ourselves.”

This timeless tale was retold through Sita’s eyes and is referred to as Sitaayan. Her courage, bravery, loyalty and unwavering love for Ram is seen throughout the book. She stood up for herself and the ideologies she believed in.

“And that is why, O King Ram, I must reject your kind offer to allow me to prove my innocence again. Because this is one of those times when a woman must stand up and say, No more!” 

Having read The Palace of Illusions, it is hard not to draw parallels. While the narration is bang on, I have read a better retelling of this epic. I felt that Sita lacked fieriness. I also wanted to read in detail, Sita’s relation with the other characters – Kausalya, Kaikeyi, Laxman, and Hanuman.

‘I forgave you a long time ago,’ I say to Ram. ‘Though I didn’t know it until now. Because this is the most important aspect of love, whose other face is compassion: It isn’t doled out, drop by drop. It doesn’t measure who is worthy and who isn’t. It is like the ocean. Unfathomable. Astonishing. Measureless.’

That said, you should definitely give it a read for its empowering prose and feminist take on mythology.

Chitra Banerjee’s writing style is a class apart. Her portrayal of human relationships and emotions are noteworthy. Her books are often centered around self-discovery I’m yet to read her other works and I am hoping to pick up Oleander Girl soon.

Disclaimer: This post contains one or more affiliate links, which means, if you make a purchase through the link, I will earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

That’s all for now!
Have you read any of her books? If so, which is your favorite and why? Let me know.
I hope you’ll drop by tomorrow too.

My theme for the A to Z Challenge this year is ‘Celebrating the Bibliophile in me’, where I would share the books, authors and fictional characters that I love, loathe and tolerate.
Ah, there could be more!
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P. S: Do you want to treat yourself with a multitude of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes from the Spice Capital of the World? Check out my food blog for some tantalizing recipes from Kerala.


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