Publisher: Harper Collins India
Published: January 2019
Rating: 3.75/5 stars
The Ramayana, one of the world’s greatest epics, is also a tragic love story. In this brilliant retelling, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni places Sita at the centre of the novel: this is Sita’s version.
The Forest of Enchantments is also a very human story of some of the other women in the epic, often misunderstood and relegated to the margins: Kaikeyi, Surpanakha, Mandodari. A powerful comment on duty, betrayal, infidelity and honour, it is also about women’s struggle to retain autonomy in a world that privileges men, as Chitra transforms an ancient story into a gripping, contemporary battle of wills.
While the Ramayana resonates even today, she makes it more relevant than ever, in the underlying questions in the novel: How should women be treated by their loved ones? What are their rights in a relationship? When does a woman need to stand up and say, ‘Enough!’
I had been waiting to read the book ever since it came out in January. And what better time to pick it up than the #ReadIndiaThon hosted by Shantala at Shanaya Tales. The gorgeous cover fit the prompt ‘an Indian book cover with the colors of the national flag’ perfectly.
The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a re-telling of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. It could well be called Sitayan, the name of the book she decides to write being unhappy with Valmiki’s version. It is essentially a love story through the eyes of Sita. You are treated to a narrative with some excellent quotes that make you ponder. The writing, needless to day, is excellent too. Sita is often considered meek. The book seeks to explore the whys. Did it succeed? Read on.
As you may be aware, there are multiple versions of the Ramayana. The author has made an effort to include aspects from different versions to come up with a more human story. Where Ram and Sita are as flawed as any human.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni had promised to give voice to the voiceless – Kaikeyi, Surpanakha, and Mandodari. There were some interesting insights into Kaushalya and Ahalya too. I particularly liked the fact that the book states that Lakshman indeed overreacted and unfairly disfigured Surpanakha. Similarly, Ahalya was punished for no fault of hers. I hoped there was more to Kaikeyi’s thought process, though.
“Such rulers were adored by the citizens they protected, but often their families had to bear the brunt of sacrifice.”
As much as I enjoyed the book, it left me wanting. I was particularly interested in reading Sita’s thoughts during the Uttar Kand. I felt it did not dig deeper into the impact on her after being unfairly banished by Ram. He may have been a great king, but not a good husband.
“I blamed love, too, for my silence. How it makes us back down from protesting because we’re afraid of displeasing the beloved, or because we’re afraid that our disagreement is the symptom of a greater disease: incompatibility of values.”
I was also disappointed with the sugar coating of Ram’s attitude. Prioritising the kingdom over everything else. Apart from the ending, Sita’s although questioning prefers to keep silence to maintain peace of sorts. That is indeed a major sign of weakness.
Unpopular opinion time. I liked the book better than The Palace of Illusions. I had one major issue with the latter and it ruined the book for me. And no, it was not about a woman’s right to free will.
The book raises a pertinent question. How much is too much? In essence, Sita did walk out of the relationship when asked to undergo the agni-pariksha again. I loved the ending and her response perfectly summed up the book for me.
“Because if I do what you demand, society will use my action forever after to judge other women. Even when they aren’t guilty, the burden of proving their innocence will fall on them. And society will say, why not? Even Queen Sita went through it. I can’t do that to them.”
Flaws or not, I would recommend picking the book. For the fabulous piece writing if not anything else. It is indeed an interesting perspective on the epic.Essentially a love story from Sita's perspective. You are treated to a fabulous piece of writing with some excellent food for thought. The Forest of Enchantments by @cdivakaruni Book Review #BohoPonderings #MyFriendAlexa Click To Tweet
The Forest of Enchantments is available for purchase at Amazon India
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