My rating: 4 of 5 stars
4 stars to this wonderful retelling of The Ramayana and exploration of the nature of love.
***MIGHT CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS, depending on what you consider spoiler-y***
Things I liked:
– I am a huge fan of Divakaruni’s ways of turning these masculine tales into a woman’s story. Like Palace of Illusions, The Forest of Enchantments gives voice to the women in an epic. The novel is not only from Sita’s point-of-view, a Sitayan, but also focuses on the several marginal female characters who are overshadowed by the four brothers, the old king, the demon king, and numerous other male characters. One of my favourite lines, for instance, is Sita’s observation of her sister Urmila’s plight:
“Forgive me, Sister, I said silently, you who are the unsung heroine of this tale, the one who has the tougher role: to wait and worry.”
– While Sita’s character and observations on love seem a bit too naive and emotional in the beginning, she visibly grows up as the book progresses. She still talks about love in the end, but it is very clearly a more polished view on the matter now, after the many challenges life has thrown at her. It includes the thorny side of love too, the dark and negative side of it.
– Ravan was probably my favourite character. Divakaruni did not turn him into a hero (that would be too predictable), but kept all of his complexities intact, making him an extremely mysterious character. Another interesting factor was Sita’s sympathy towards Surpanakha, and the unease she feels towards her husband and brother-in-law’s behaviour towards this woman.
– The feminist in me was delighted by some of the points Sita makes. For instance:
“If you reject me now, word will travel across Bharatvarsha, and men everywhere will feel that they, too, can reject a wife who has been abducted. Or even been touched against her will. Countless innocent women – as innocent as I am – will be shunned and punished because of your act. Is that dharma? Is that what you want?”
Things I did not like:
– Some parts of the novel were a little preach-y, I guess?
– I cannot help but compare this novel to Palace of Illusions, which I had rated 5 stars. I do understand thought that it is easier to write a more complex and nuanced novel with Mahabharata (which is itself more nuanced) than to write one with Ramayana (which is comparatively straight-forward).
Despite its minor flaws, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in retellings of Indian epics. The novel is intense and well-constructed, and the ending is absolutely glorious.