Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Discovering Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I had noted books by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. But talk of prejudices! Her ornate name reminded me of Barbara Cartland and I avoided her books thinking the stories would revolve around kings and queens.    Given my recent interest in reading books by Indian authors, I browsed through  her book ' One Amazing Thing' and was startled to read a contemporary setting. Did I feel silly! I  picked up the book along with her 'Sister of my heart' and 'The palace of illusions'.

I feel what ' One amazing thing' did was put aside my doubts on her as an author. It talks of people caught in the Indian embassy amidst an earthquake  . To tide over the stress of the situation, each person talks of one amazing thing in their life. The Chinese grandmother's description of Kolkatta where she  had emigrated from was very interesting.  The introspections  rang very true and I warmed up to the author.

I started on her next book 'Sister of my heart' which talks of the bonding of love between two cousin sisters and their life journey.  I guess the story had me very involved, because I was actually  shaking my head when I read the last chapter visualizing an impending disaster. What also warmed me up to  the book was the background setting of West Bengal, very beautifully captured. The book is peppered with Bengali words like unoon ( clay stove) , luchi (puris) which reminded me of trips to my grandmother's place. In fact there were such mouth watering descriptions of luchis  and other food, that I ended up making luchis during the weekend.

I then moved to ' The palace of Illusions'. When I realised , the novel described events as seen by Draupadi, was I elated!  As a kid I had heard of Maithili Sharan Gupta's epic  on Lakshman's wife Urmila. In college, my friend Amita had  narrated very vividly Shivaji Sawant's Mrityunjay - Karna.  These two books had fired my imagination  and so was delighted when I came across this book on Mahabharata as viewed by Draupadi. It never fails to amaze me that ancient ancient epics like Mahabharata, Illiad  has been  enthralling  us across generations! At a time, when everything seems to be effected by generation gap, these epics seem to effortlessly bridge the generation gap!  . Shashi Kapoor's Kalyug was based on Mahabharata, and a movie as recent as Rajneeti lightly mirrored Mahabharata again. I have watched Helen of Troy as a ten year old child,  and I have watched Brad Pitt in Troy just a few years back!  
Coming back to the book ,'The Palace of Illusions' had me captivated and I found it very difficult to keep the book down. The book does not  white wash Draupadi. It shows her as a woman who had to be strong due to  the circumstances she found herself in. As I read the book, I kept remembering Rupa Ganguli in the serial Mahabharata and felt the directors had aptly chosen her to portray a beautiful but strong   Draupadi . This is one book I would recommend as a must read...  


  1. Hey Shilpi, My friend sent palace of illusions as a birthday gift last year from Mumbai. What a fantastic gift!! I finished it in record time, couldn't put it down. Mahabharat as viewed from Draupadi's perspective! I have had this couldn't put down the book, just one other time when I read a thousand splendid suns. Haven't read the other two books you mentioned here, will tell Varun to get in next visit to India. Thnks for the reviews!

  2. Interesting, your comments, make me want to pick up her books. I'll try to see if I can find it on Amazon, where you can almost always find anything under the sun :-p

  3. Sohini, I need to certainly check out A thousand splendid sons, then.. to tell the truth, I was scared to read Khaled Hosseini's books as was worried they may be upsetting considering the Afghanistan background... but shall certainly read them now..
    Preeti, Amazon is indeed an amazing site.. I picked up the books at the local library...

  4. Khaled Hosseini's books are indeed based on Afghan background... and his "Kite Runner" was very touching and could be upsetting to some, but the manner in which the story flows...I was not able to put the book down...Have just started the thousand splendid sons..Looks like this book also revolves around a character who is an illegit....

  5. Shall certainly check them out Alpana...