15 February 2019

Review #722: The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves."

----Mary Shelley

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, an Indian best selling novelist, has penned an evocative and timeless tale of one of the greatest love story that our Indian mythology has ever given to us in the form of Ramayana in her new book, The Forest of Enchantments. But its not a retelling of our favorite mythology on Lord Ram, rather its told and primarily focuses on the life and time of Lord Ram's wife, Sita who is not just a Goddess who we all worship to, but a fateful woman with a heart full of only love and kindness journeying through a path of thorns till her death.


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!’

Sita, the daughter of Earth and King Janak's adopted daughter, was known for her healing skills with the help of myriad medicinal herbs, since her girlhood and before she became Lord Ram's wife. Her life in Mithila, her adopted hometown, was beautiful and peaceful until she met Lord Ram along with his younger brother, Lakshman in her Swayamvar, who not just won the challenge to marry King Janak's beautiful daughter, Sita, but also stole her heart and mind right from the very first meeting. Soon together they hit it off with their intense chemistry and immense love for one another. But soon her blissful years of married life comes into turmoil when she is abducted by Ravana and was imprisoned in his palace for over a year, until Ram and his army rescues her. Still the challenges don't leave her behind, and her real hardships begin thereafter.

An enthralling yet extremely heart breaking story told so poignantly from Sita's perspective that has not filled my heart with anger towards Ram or men of the society, but with love. The extent of Sita's love had no boundaries and that's the true definition of loving someone selflessly. Yes Sita's life was full of injustice done to her by her very own husband, whom she loved faithfully and deeply till her last dying breath. Even Ram too loved her in his own crooked yet ethical ways. This tragic love story is the central story line on which Sita's tale is based on. And the author did full justice to all the forgotten female voices of the epic mythological tale, Ramayana, as the author has also narrated the stories of Kaushalya, Mandodari, Kaikeyi, Sarama, Ahalya etc, besides Sita.

What I have forever resonated with Divakaruni's books is that her simple style of writing, easy context and extremely relatable prose with a gentle pace. Even in this book, too, the author has maintained her signature style of writing that can easily make the readers click with her story telling instantly. The evocative prose will make the readers' heart throb with the sensible emotions expressed by the characters. The underlying message is very loud and clear that the challenges faced by a woman now and then are pretty much the same. And that is the USP of the book!

The author has done full justice to Sita's character by bringing her alive through her imagination and knowledge. Sita's life story is so well described by the author that the readers can really feel getting into the skin of the Goddess herself and walking in her footsteps. The scenes come alive and so the wisdom which holds the power to awaken the women of our society and stand up against their injustices. Sita's character has so many layers, sometimes the readers will witness her someone extremely polite and kind and the next moment someone ready to fight like a warrior. Even the other women who were lost and forgotten, come alive through Sita's narrative which is bound to connect the readers with their plights too. Although the men of this book felt very one dimensional and typical.

Nevertheless, this is the story of all the women of Ramayana where some were seen as an evil character, while some as pure. But the author resurrected all of them and have paid respect and justice to their muted tales.

Verdict: A tragic and heart breaking epic love story told from the perspective of the Goddess Sita. A must read indeed!

Author Info:
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her themes include the Indian experience, contemporary America, women, immigration, history, myth, and the joys and challenges of living in a multicultural world. Her work is widely known, as she has been published in over 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing has been included in over 50 anthologies. Her works have been translated into 29 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Hindi and Japanese. Divakaruni also writes for children and young adults.Her novels One Amazing Thing, Oleander Girl, Sister of My Heart and Palace of Illusions are currently in the process of being made into movies.
Find her here

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