Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Harper Collins
January 7, 2019
Final Verdict

About the Author

Chitra Divakaruni is an award-winning writer, activist and teacher. She writes for adults and children.

Her work has been published in over 100 magazines and anthologies and translated into 30 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Bengali, Hungarian, Turkish, Hindi and Japanese. Her work has been made into films, plays and dance dramas, and performed as operas. Her awards include an American Book Award, a PEN Josephine Miles award, a Premio Scanno, and a Light of India award. In 2015 The Economic Times included her in their List of 20 Most Influential Global Indian Women. She is the McDavid professor of Creative Writing in the internationally acclaimed Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston and lives in Houston with her husband Murthy.

Divakaruni has been an activist in the fields of education and domestic violence and has been closely associated with the following nonprofits: Pratham, which educates underprivileged children in India, and Daya and Maitri, which assist survivors of domestic violence in starting life anew.
Other Works By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Mistress of Spices
Black Candle: Poems about Women from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh
Leaving Yuba City
Sister of My Heart
Before We Visit the Goddess
The Palace of Illusions
The Last Queen

The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra B. Divakaruni

This is how the blurb of The Forest of Enchantments (written by Chitra B. Divakaruni, published by HarperCollins) goes: “It is a brilliant retelling of the Ramayana…a powerful comment on duty, betrayal, infidelity and honour…”

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As blurbs go, this is among the most exaggerated I have seen in a while. Banerjee’s retelling of the Ramayana, told from Sita’s point of view and highlighting a host of the other women in this timeless Indian epic is neither written well nor does it say anything new when compared to other feminist retellings of Ramayana.

The points of view

The story begins with Valmiki inviting Sita to pen down her own story after he is done with the Ramayana. It’s supposed to be an empowering insight into Sita’s journey and role in what is essentially a love story, as well as focus on the other women of the Ramayana – Surpanakha, Mandodari, Urmila – but so much of The Forest of Enchantments is about redeeming Ram and justifying him, you begin to wonder what exactly is being ‘retold’ here.

Depending on the reader’s knowledge of the Ramayana, there may be some sub-plots and incidents (borrowed from previous retellings of Ramayana, according to this fantastic reading of The Forest of Enchantments by Deepanjana Pal), which may stand out. I was a little surprised by the inclusion of the theory that Sita was Ravana and Mandodari’s daughter.

But till the very end, one waits and waits and waits for that redemption – as much for the characters as for the book as a literary work – but it never comes.

Writing (un) style

Ridden with cliches, a simplistic voice that cannot quite strike the balance between the gravitas and grandeur of the story setting with the colloquial language used, and sounding, frankly, boring, it is a chore to get through the book.

It’s stuck between two worlds – the old and new – and does not do justice to either. Sita and Rama’s story is a cosmic tale of love and longing, diluted by the way the scenes are set up, and an unhealthy reliance on the tell, don’t show flaws in writing (bordering on preachy, essay-like, or reading like a teenager’s diary).

Consider this:

“And holding him by the hand, I laughingly pulled Ram to our bedroom and to another exciting night of discoveries. This incident taught me that the more love we distribute, the more it grows, coming back to us from unexpected sources. And its corollary: when we demand love, believing it to be our right, it shrivels, leaving only resentment behind.”

Or Sita’s description of swords as “sharp and dangerous and very long”.

Or the endearments used, “I need your support, my wife,” or “forgive me, sister, I said silently.”

(I was immediately reminded of Amrita Rao saying “जल पी लीजीए” in Vivaah).

The reader just does not buy into it when Hanuman says “Anyway, back to what I was saying…” or “By the way, my name is Hanuman.”

If this was a retelling taking place in a 20th-century bar, it may have passed. If this was meant to be read by children as their first Ramayana book, it may have passed. In its current avatar, it does not.

Saving Grace?

Ravana’s character development is worth watching out for. Even though this was probably not Divakurni’s intention, his portrayal is the most layered and nuanced.

The book cover and the production quality of The Forest of Enchantments are master moves by Harper Collins. They attract a reader’s attention, and it makes for a fine book to have on your shelf. In the age when your public image is guided by your bookshelf during Zoom meetings, this book does a good job.


There are many other retellings of the Ramayana (or Sitayana) that are far superior, including The Liberation of Sita by Volga. You can safely skip this one, and perhaps re-read The Palace of Illusions.

Favourite quote:

“Ah love. Why had Vidhata made its nature so complex? Why did one love conflict, so often, with another?”

quotes from the forest of enchantments


If you are curious and interested, check out the digitally reunified manuscript of the Mewar Ramayana, here. (Disclaimer: It takes time to load) If you want accessible images, go here.

Check out the preview.

Prakruti Maniar

Prakruti Maniar

Prakruti Maniar is editor and partner of Purple Pencil Project, and hustles as a writer, researcher and more. She is deeply invested in cultural heritage, especially stories, and is committed to saving the literary heritage of India. She has a Master of Arts in Digital Humanities from Loyola University Chicago.

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