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I hope this crossposts. I can't get into LJ at the moment at all due to that ongoing DDOS attack.

This is a retelling of the Mahabharata (which I have not read! sorry!) from the point of view of Draupadi. Draupadi, also called Panchaali, was born from a sacrificial fire and it was prophesied that she would change the course of history. She married the five Pandava brothers, the greatest of heroes, and was partially responsible for the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas that ended the third age of the world. Her actions are fairly central to the epic: the public shaming of her the Kauravas attempt, prevented by a miracle, and the vow of vengeance she swore after that and held her husbands to, that she would comb her hair again until she could bathe it in the blood of the Kauravas.

This version is an interesting portrayal of her, sympathetic but not entirely so: she's in love with the wrong person entirely, unable to let go of her vengefulness, unable to remember the good advice she is given, but also greatly wronged by circumstance, and greatly capable of loving. And of course her life is inherently interesting, everything from the simple logistical questions of having five husbands to the moment of the miracle, of her sari unfolding in an endless length and refusing to come off of her.

But-- hm. I like the way she's done, I like the way the other characters are done. I absolutely love the fact that I can keep all the factions and people straight without having read the actual epic, only retellings of it when I was a child. (I have a highly recommended translation sitting right here, but it's about fifteen hundred pages long, so probably Not This Year.) But I don't like the way the war is done. This is not a very epic epic.

In some ways that's the point, that Draupadi has different motivations and different ways of looking at conflict from the predominantly male power structure around her, but when it comes to the war, well, this is literally a war of brother against brother, grandfather against grandson, a war that should tear the reader to pieces. It does tear Draupadi to pieces. But despite having watched these people for a whole book, and quite liking them, this never managed to hit me where it hurt. And the retellings I remember from my childhood were very painful, just from stating the simple facts of the plot. I don't know why the book diffuses this way, but it does, and I think it is a great flaw, because that distance and lack of immediacy have a quenching effect on both the moments of greatest hurt and greatest triumph.

Well. Except Krishna. I think Krishna may be the real point of this book, Krishna and his friendship with Draupadi. Krishna is, as the reader of course knows, the incarnation of the god Vishnu, but most of the other characters are never quite sure of it; what they know is that he is a friend, and he solves their problems, and he is wise. He really is wise here, too, without being annoying (unless he's trying to be), funny, inscrutable, an absolutely wonderful portrait of a god being a god and a human at the same time and doing very well at both of them. And when the book ends as it has to end, well, that did move me.

I just wish the rest of it had been as good as Krishna.


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