Sometimes, when you pick up a book entirely at random, the choice proves to be better than one that you make after much thought and deliberation. When I first came across this book on Flipkart, I thought, “Why not?”. After all, I enjoy reading mythology of any sort. Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni remains one of my favourite retellings of India’s most interesting epic many years after I first read it. I ordered it online almost on an impulse, given that I hadn’t even heard of Kavita Kane before. Better yet, I had no idea that Karna was even married according to the traditional version of the Mahabharata. The premise was interesting.
After reading about 30 pages, I found myself falling in love with Karna, much like Uruvi who marries him against social sanction and becomes his closest friend, confidante and conscience-keeper. The narrative is layered with the several contradictions that characterize Karna. His nobility and goodness is unquestionable as is his unflinching loyalty to Duryodhana. Beyond all this, what sets this narrative apart from all others is that no character, however good or evil is entirely so. Even Duryodhana is portrayed as essentially human, with all the flaws that accompany it. It is refreshing to see Bhanumati, Duryodhana’s wife as a real character of flesh and blood rather than just a name. Each of the minor characters in the traditional version gets an overhaul and becomes so real that their concerns become ours.
I could go on and on about what’s good about the book, but what’s the point? If you are one of those who likes mythology, this book is definitely for you. Kavita Kane has done a great job with this book, but I wonder if she plans to write any more. She will definitely have a reputation to live up to in her books to come!