Mythology was never a genre I paid enough attention to until I read The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Divakaruni. I was highly impressed by the book (read my review on The Palace of Illusions here) and it made me want to read more books on the subject.
While Mahabharat is full of interesting characters, I found Karna a tad more intriguing than others. He was a good man but he supported the wrong side in the war, he was a noble person but he encouraged public shaming of Draupadi, he was the most generous soul but he craved for his birth mother’s love until the end, he was the greatest warrior but he died a pitiful death. I hoped Karna’s Wife would shed more light on his mysterious personality. The book does that but there are many things I could not digest.
For starters, the book portrays a larger than life picture of Uruvi, who by the way is a fictional character created by the author Kavita Kane. Since she’s the main protagonist she was everywhere, she was even one of the reasons for the enemity between Karna and Arjun. I understand why the story has to revolve around her but putting a fictional new character in the centre of an epic I have heard and watched umpteen number of times made it sort of confusing.
Quite surprisingly Draupadi is mentioned everywhere in the book too. When Uruvi is having an intense conversation with Bhanumati about Karna and Duryodhan they don’t talk about Draupadi or anything that could be related to her yet the author writes about Uruvi’s feelings about Draupadi and Karna pining for each other. When Uruvi and Karna are relishing family time and talking about Karna’s sons Uruvi brings up Draupadi out of the blue. These frequent and unexpected references start feeling repetitive soon and Uruvi comes across as highly insecure wife thinking of Draupadi and Karna all the time.
The book has glorified Karna beyond reason. Everything about him has been revered, even his role in the Vastra Haran. What Arjun did, rather didn’t do was shameful but what Karna did was no less. Uruvi’s mother and Kunti both tell her Karna is a better man than Arjun and that’s good enough to stay married to him.
I’m not convinced how someone with a heart of gold can be so spiteful that he forgot all boundaries and dignity. And he’s supposedly in love with the woman he publicly wanted naked!!! What kind of twisted love is that? How can someone glorify this disgusting emotion? How could Kunti of all people say it was OK to call Draupadi a whore because that’s what she is…. Maybe that was the mother in her talking, but I was so disgusted that I almost stopped reading the book. I was as aghast as Uruvi herself and couldn’t buy the logic that because Kunti was called a whore herself its no big deal if Draupadi was called one too.
Because of the same premise I continued to compare the book to Palace of Illusions, I know it’s not fair but I couldn’t help myself. It doesn’t even come close. The language is fine but the author has spelled out every single thing to the readers which I found very annoying, especially because it’s something we have watched, read and heard atleast a thousand times already. For example there was absolutely no need to tell the Arjun and bird’s eye story, she could have just referred to it and moved on with her tale. Similarly few scenes between Uruvi and her parents seem to have more dialogue than required. Overall there seem to be too many words in the book, and considering Uruvi is the central character more than required are written on Draupadi and Karna.
Uruvi’s confrontation with Kunti is the best part of the book. It’s harsh but spot on. Although here also the author has said the same thing in a couple of different ways making her arguments a bit repetitive.
While the book has its flaws, the author did her research well. I learnt some new things about Mahabharat which is a huge deal given the number of times we have heard the story before. There is a tale about Shakuni’s brothers which tells why he pledged to end Kuru clan, then the story of Duryodhan’s defeat at Dwaitvana and seize by Gandharva King resulting in his fast unto death and some more.
Despite the lengthy details there appear some gaps in the story –
“Arjuna shot another astra—the Aindrastra—at him. Karna could have invoked the invincible Brahmastra to counter it but he suddenly froze. It was as if he had lost all his ability to think! I tried to distract Arjuna so that Karna could have time to retaliate, but it was futile. It was as if no one stood between them now—it was just Karna and Arjuna.”
So what happened after the Aindrastra was shot but not countered by Karna?? How was he not hurt?
Kavita Kone writes that Salya was impressed by Karna’s skills the day of his death and had apologized to him, if it was indeed so why did he not help when the wheels were stuck. Kavita Kone hasn’t mentioned Salya even once during the duel between Karna and Arjuna, even though Salya’s behavior that time ultimately lead to Karna’s death.
At some places the book lacked the right emotional balance. Like after the war when the Pandavas visit Vrushali and Uruvi, Uruvi starts naming the six people who deceived Karna and how. The facts she presents and the details she shares make it seem like a well rehearsed speech rather than a mourning wife telling Arjun to not feel guilty of killing his own brother. During the same visit Krishna telling Uruvi why they had to kill Karna the way they had to feels more like another way to sing Karna’s praises and lacks the right emotion given the situation. And why did they say they have come to take Uruvi and her son with them, why not Vrushali? Vrushali was their brother’s wife too!
Overall, it’s a very detailed and lengthy read which didn’t meet my expectations. I feel the book can be edited and made more crisp and enjoyable. If you do want to read it please do that before picking up The Palace of Illusions. If however you have already read The Palace, you should skip this one.
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