Audiobook Review - The Palace of Illusions

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banarji Divakaruni is a retelling of an epic Indian poem called the Mahabharata. I've never read the Mahabharata, so I can't tell you whether or not it was a good retelling, but I definitely enjoyed the story. I would like to get my hands on a good translation of the Mahabharata now, so that I can compare them.
The Palace of Illusions follows the life of princess Panchaali. She is literally born from fire and told that she is destined to change the course of the world. She is determined to fulfill her destiny, but doesn't realize that she might not like the way this change is brought about. The funny thing is that when she does begin to change history, she doesn't seem to realize what she's doing.

The Good
I liked the star-crossed-lovers bit of the book, even though I could see the surprise ending coming from a mile away. There's just something about doomed romance that catches my attention in a story, as cheesy as it can be. And there were times when I thought Panchaali's inner dialogue on the matter was a bit much, but I can live with it.
I also liked the questions raised about fate, and whether you can change or fight your destiny. I thought it was interesting that Panchaali made mistakes even though she had been warned about them in advance.
The audiobook was read by Sneha Mathan, whose voice I loved. She did a wonderful job and had a wide range of voices and accents that she used, which was definitely an enormous help when it came to keeping the various characters straight.
The Bad
It was difficult to keep track of the characters, because there were so many of them, and many of the names were very similar. Not to mention that some of the characters went by more than one name. It got a bit confusing at times.
There were also many stories inside of stories, and the timeline was often a bit hazy. The narrator would often jump backward or forward in time, which I found irritating. I thought there was some very heavy-handed foreshadowing, as well.

The Ugly
I can't think of anything that I thought was really awful in the book. Some clumsy moments, a bit of heavy-handedness, but nothing terrible.

My Rating
7.5/10 - pretty good. I would definitely read another book by this author if I came across it.
I would like to find more good books based on Indian culture, so if you have any recommendations, let me know. But please, don't recommend anything like A Fine Balance. I think that was the most depressing book I've ever read. And on that note, I've noticed that there isn't as much of a focus on happy endings in other cultures as there seems to be in American culture. Do you agree?