The Forest of Enchantments – A #Review

Mythology tells timeless tales. Which is why we never tire of listening to these stories from our childhood. Or perhaps the charm lies in the voice of the storyteller who brings something new, something unexpected to the tale; a new perspective maybe, or a poetic narration – something that makes the same old story fresh and exciting.

That’s why Chitra Banerjee’s The Forest of Enchantments was a book I was really looking forward to. It made me break my no-book-buying resolve within a few days of making it. Oh well!

The story 

…. of Sita is not new – found as an infant by the king of Mithila she is married off to Ram, the charismatic scion of the Raghu clan. When Ram is banished to fourteen years of exile she decides to accompany him, is abducted by the powerful Asura King Ravan only to be rescued by Ram. Barely has she settled down in the palace when she is banished, once again to the forest, this time by Ram himself for imagined infidelity. Finally, broken and hurt she finds refuge within mother earth.

Divakaruni’s Sita

…is my Sita too. She was closest to the one I’d always imagined and loved.

I loved that Sita chooses to tell her own story. Valmiki’s version wouldn’t do for her. How could he, a mere man, be equipped to understand a woman, divine guidance notwithstanding? So this here is the Sitayan.

Divakaruni crafts Sita’s character with care – her traits and her strengths complement her origin. Daughter of the earth, she understands all things that come from the earth. She has a green thumb, she can heal through herbs, she talks to the trees, she feels their pain, she craves the forest. Divakaruni’s pen brings to life Sita’s love in beautifully flowing prose, making one fall in love with the world as she sees it – free and unrestrained.

Sita is taught to use her body like a weapon, to centre her whole being and withdraw into herself when situations around her became unbearable.

Her natural gifts coupled with learned skills make her, to me, the perfect woman. One with silent strength and quiet courage, in Divakaruni’s words, ‘easy to mistake for meekness’; Sita has the courage of endurance.

On Love

Ramayan, as also Sitayan is definitely Sita and Ram’s love story. However, beyond that, The Forest of Enchantments is a treatise on love. Every action, good or bad, stems from love and its myriad shades – joy, ecstasy, expectation, pain, suffering, even death. Divakaruni gets elegantly lyrical as she enumerates how each action, each emotion finally finds its root in love. And every single quote is worth being read over and over again.

My absolute favourite is the one on Kaikeyi

It’s not enough to merely love someone…. we must want what they want, not what we want for them.

And this one from when she isn’t able to tell Ram how desperately she wants children during the banishment.

That’s how love stops us when it might be healthier to speak out, to not let frustration and rage build up until it explodes.

I know I’m overdoing this but just one more..

How entangled love is with expectation, that poison vine!

The other characters

..are beautifully etched too. Ram, the duty bound Raghuvanshi, Kaikeyi – strong and stubborn, Urmila – happy, effervescent as also Ravan, Shurpanakha, Mandodari, Sarama (Vibhishan’s wife), Ahalya (my favourite) and Shabari – they were all just right.

I would have liked to see a softer side to Lakshman. He seems forever angry and suspicious. Ram is his whole world, to the exclusion of everyone else. I sorely missed the warmth of his relationship with Sita.

But I’ll let that go, there is only so much one can do while cramming an epic into a few hundred pages.

The ending

…needs special mention because it is absolutely magnificent. Sita’s last few lines completely satisfied the feminist in me, without being angry or aggressive or loud. You need to read it to get what I’m saying.

The few bits that missed the mark

I loved Sita, I’ve made that pretty clear. That said, there were parts of her character that didn’t come together. One, she seemed overly empathetic, unnaturally so – even with Ravan and Shurpanakha. She is constantly thinking from multiple points of view even in the most dire circumstance. I get that she’s a divine, evolved soul but in her human form, it didn’t ring true.

Yet at places what she feels and says doesn’t tie in with her divinity. When she thinks of dying in the Ashok Vatika one of her thoughts is,
‘I wouldn’t be able to tell him how I’d suffered and how all through that suffering had remained true to him.’ Only too human!

I’m being too demanding, I know. The balance between the divine and mortal is difficult not to say subjective.

There were also bits of writing that didn’t quite come through. The abduction scene, for instance, didn’t turn out to be as dramatically horrifying as I thought it should have been.
Says Sita ‘My nails raised welts on his dark smooth skin…’. No one would note her captor’s ‘smooth’ skin while being abducted.
Also, when Sita sees the Pushpak Viman, she says, and I quote..
‘I was so amazed, I couldn’t help staring in open-mouthed wonder. For a moment, I even forgot to struggle.
‘You might want to close your lips’, the rakshasa (Ravan) said kindly (?). ‘A bug might wander in.’
The humour detracted from the horror of the situation.

And yet, despite the few hiccups I’ll say this is the best retelling of the Ramayan I’ve read. The one that reminded me of my grandma’s stories only in a more colourful, more fresh, ever more engrossing form.

Last Thought: Buy it.

Click on the image to buy the book.

31 Replies to “The Forest of Enchantments – A #Review”

  1. Wonderful review, Tulika! It’s on my 2019 TBR list.
    Er…yes the Pushpak Viman humour is odd. :). But, like everyone, I just love Chitra Ji’s lyrical writing. Will buy it soon.

    {I am yet to read Amish’s Sita. Have you read that?}

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tarang. Yes I have read Amish’s Sita. He likes to challenge all we have ever known about the mythological characters and so his Sita was a military commander. Quite enchanting, I have to say but the book didn’t live up to my expectations.


  2. What a fantastic review, Tulika. I like the fact that the retelling is from a woman’s point of view. Growing up, I had so many questions about Ramayan. Let’s see if Chitra’s tale can do them justice. On my TBR!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an absolutely amazing review!! I am looking forward to this book and your review made me crave it even more. I liked the Palace of illusions so expected something similar in this book. Your review is complete in a way that it talks about all negative and positive aspects of the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Balaka. The thing is Sita and Panchali are so very different, but Chitra Bannerji did justice to them both. And despite the minor bits I did love the way the book turned out.


  4. It was a lovely book So agree with you Tuliks. Ofcourse there were hiccups but the entire plot was written so well, that it seemed too minor to me. Nevertheless cant agree more , its definitely worth a buy

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This year cannot end without me reading this book. I would prefer paperback for this book and if I buy now I will have to do with an ebook. I think I will bring the hardcopy with me when I visit India during summer vacations. And that bit about dark smooth skin and pushpak vimaan can only be spotted by a keen eye, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think you need a keen eye and it wasn’t like I was looking for errors, it’s just that some bits intrude on the picture you’re creating in your head as you read. I thought it was obvious – if you’re being abducted by someone like Ravan, a known evil Rakshasa, you possibly wouldn’t notice anything at all good in him. Perhaps the author’s voice got entangled with Sita’s. As an author you have perspective and can see the greys but as a victim you’ll only black. That’s what I thought.


  6. I’m yet to start reading this one. Looks like you enjoyed this one and I love the way you have reviewed it. Mythology is always nice and better from a woman’s POV.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I sure did Soumya. I do love all kinds of mythological re-telllings, as long as they’re well told.


  7. Second review of this book today that I have seen. Glad to see the missing points raised in your review for this is why her books disappoint me. Her blurbs are splendid but the actual detailing in the books have left me wanting for more. I am not a fan of this author and doubt will pick up this book.

    The humour is odd and as you mentioned the characterization of other people in the tale lacking – it lets the narrative down

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To each his own, I guess. I am actually quite a fan of her writing and absolutely loved Mistress of Spice, Palace of Illusions and the more recent Oleander Girl. This one was good too except for some small bits. And I loved most of the characters, specially the women. Ahilya, for instance was very beautifully etched.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Your review is definitely very captivating… Enough to make me want to read the book. I absolutely loved the snippets on love. So much depth and meaning in those lines. We often forget that when in a relationship for long. Thank you for writing this honest review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading Rajlakshmi and glad you agree. Those quotes took my breath away – they were so on point.


  9. Such a fabulous review, Tulika. And no you were not overdoing it with the quotes – I loved every single one of them.

    I cannot wait to get my hands on this book, but it hasn’t released in US yet, and so I am (not so) patiently waiting for it.

    That being said, from this review, Divakaruni’s Sita seems very much like the one in my head too. And I cannot wait for the American release!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw.. I hope you get it soon. As for the quotes, I struck out a few because I felt I was re-printing the entire book :-).


  10. The thing I liked the most about Palace of Illusions was that it was narrated from the woman’s perspective. I know for a fact that this book won’t disappoint on that count.

    There are so many books on my reading list now that I will put this one on hold till later this year.

    As always, a marvellous review, Tulika. You really brought the character alive in this one. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Shailaja. I get what you’re saying – there just are too many wonderful books to be read. Sigh!


  11. This is one of the most beautiful reviews of this book I’ve read so far, Tulika.

    I can see just how much you loved reading and and that your love for the book did not bias you into accepting it all blindly.

    I hope Chitra Banerjee reads this. It is certainly going to make me pick up the book!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What a great review, Tulika. I might actually pick up this book. After Palace of Illusions, none of her other books piqued my interest. But this could be a good read, retelling from the woman’s perspective is always good.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve heard mixed reviews of it so far, Tulika! 🙂 Some say it is amazing, and others say they were disappointed with the book. I loved yours, and it makes me want to read it soon. But I’m awaiting the paperback version first.

    Liked by 1 person

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