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
I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa.
Sindhu Vinod Narayan
September 17, 2019 @ 11:14 am
This is one of my favourite reads loved the point of view from the author.
September 17, 2019 @ 11:27 am
Finally a book review on FoE that I can agree with! It left me wanting for more and I did feel the last bit, the bit you don’t normally get to read in Ramayan – the bit where she is banished – a bit rushed. But I did enjoy reading about Ram the husband. Going off topic, it was one of the reasons I had really enjoyed Black Panther. It showcased T’challa the warrior, the king, the lover, the brother and that just added more to the character.
September 17, 2019 @ 4:55 pm
Exactly Suchita. It’s not that I did not enjoy the book. But I wish there was more to the uttar kand and the Luv Kush kand as it is often called. Ditto on Blank Panther.
September 17, 2019 @ 12:39 pm
Brilliant review of the book. i think this is the exact problem i also had with the book. but then again it was not the authors fault as she was trying to stick to the script as much as possible at the same time trying to take the artistic liberty of giving in her own interpretations.
looking forward to reading more and more of your reviews.
More power to you!
September 17, 2019 @ 4:58 pm
Thank you for your kind words, Aanchal :). The flaws we consider with the book are mostly subjective.
September 17, 2019 @ 1:09 pm
Thanks for a good review
September 17, 2019 @ 4:59 pm
Thank you 🙂
September 17, 2019 @ 1:13 pm
I would like to read the book. There are many versions of Ramayan and never read the original version which is in Sanskrit. The Ramayan version shown by Ramanand Sagar or by Tulsidas leaves me unsatisfied: why was Ahilya cursed without any mistake and why did mother Sita have to make these sacrifices! You have written a nice review in a very interesting way.
September 17, 2019 @ 5:02 pm
Thank you Srishti 🙂 Do read the book. It presents a more human side to the epic. The Doordarshan version was too goody-two-shoes in my opinion. No wonder people used to watch it with folded hands.
September 17, 2019 @ 1:13 pm
This is just the kind of review this book needed. Coming to the script, not just Ramayana but a lot of other stories have done much injustice to some essential characters of the story. Let us talk of Rukmini. Her role in the scheme of things and her place in a palace inhabited by a hundred Queens. What was the dynamics between those Queens. Was it even fair to them. Or were they themselves so keen to be married off to Krishna that they didn’t care! Ok…So I’ve really digressed. It was a great review.
September 17, 2019 @ 5:13 pm
Thank you, Sonia, glad you liked it. I feel the epics fail to do justice because they are written by men. A woman’s perspective would have been interesting. There is a valid point raised by Sita towards end of the book. She questions whether Ram’s decision to not remarry (after banishing her) was indeed due to his love for her, or to keep his oath of not taking another wife.
I agree about Rukmini. Although she is the wife (and the incarnation of Laskhmi), it is Radha who is considered Krishna’s consort. We barely know anything about her other than the fact she was his wife.
September 17, 2019 @ 2:07 pm
I am mesmerised by your true review of the book. At one place, you say that love makes to be quiet as saying loudly may harm the lover. But I feel it makes let go off that ego and give out for someone else. But yes, ego may not be clashed by self respect.
Great cover of the book though. This is definitely going to be next read.
September 17, 2019 @ 5:17 pm
Thank you for your kind words, Geethica. Do read the book. It has some excellent (and sometimes conflicting) thoughts on love.
September 17, 2019 @ 2:57 pm
Superb.. the last excerpt about Sita’s reasons for not going through the Agnipariksha is powerful and hits the mark.. on my to be read list.. also, if this genre interests you, try and read Karna’s Wife by Kavita Kane.. it is a beautiful story about a woman who got lost in masculine narrative of Mahabharata.. some of the dialogue in the book is gut wrenching…
September 17, 2019 @ 5:18 pm
Thank your for the recommendation. I will definitely check it out. I was off mythological fictions for a while, but am slowly getting back to them.
September 17, 2019 @ 6:39 pm
I am not much of a mythology lover, but I think i can add this to my reading list.Thanks for the comprehensive review.
September 18, 2019 @ 10:58 pm
The book is more of a woman’s perspective and musings than an out and out mythological fiction. You might like it.
September 17, 2019 @ 7:23 pm
I am not at all an avid reader but I really bug fan of mythology mostly because of unjust actions done to women and casting women in that weak class of the society. It’s so nauseating that I am unable to offer my prayers these days. It’s like more the awareness more hate.
#damurureads #myfriendalexa damurucreations.com
September 18, 2019 @ 11:01 pm
I am glad that we have more authors calling it out. I would also recommend The Liberation of Sita by Volga.
September 17, 2019 @ 7:59 pm
the historic books are always great to go with sure will be checking out…
September 17, 2019 @ 8:55 pm
Such a great review! This book is on my TBR too. I hope I get to read it soon 😊💛
September 18, 2019 @ 11:03 pm
Thank you Krisha. Your blog is one of my favourites 🙂
September 17, 2019 @ 9:38 pm
I am yet to read this book. Mythology based books which goes in details of characters and unfold a fresh perception are captivate. A long pending in my TBR
September 18, 2019 @ 11:05 pm
There have been a lot many retellings from different perspectives, but I feel this stands out for the sheer quality of writing.
September 22, 2019 @ 10:08 pm
I would love to read this book. Thanks for sharing about it. Its a different perspective brought out in the book and I would love to know the story from another perspective
October 20, 2019 @ 9:37 pm
[…] Informations on that Topic: bohemianbibliophile.com/the-forest-of-enchantments-by-chitra-banerjee-divakaruni-book-review/ […]