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Book Review: The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

Title: The Twentieth Wife
Author: Indu Sundaresan
Paperback: 380 pages
Publisher: Washington Square Press (February 18th 2003, first published 2002)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Read: Paperback
Stars: ****/5
Buy On: Amazon | FlipKart
Summary: (Goodreads)
An enchanting historical epic of grand passion and adventure, this debut novel tells the captivating story of one of India’s most controversial empresses — a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles, and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal Empire. Skillfully blending the textures of historical reality with the rich and sensual imaginings of a timeless fairy tale, The Twentieth Wife sweeps readers up in Mehrunnisa’s embattled love with Prince Salim, and in the bedazzling destiny of a woman — a legend in her own time — who was all but lost to history until now.

My Review:

Note: Thanks to the guys at MySmartPrice for offering me “The Twentieth Wife” to review :)

Cover: Lovely!

Paper and font: Ebony and Ivory! Smell-Worthy!

Readability, language: An easy read that transports you back in time to the days of the Mughals.

Why did I choose this book: Indian History has always enthralled me and fiction based on fact so much better than our school text books.

I first learned of Nur Jahan in school when we studied Mughal history. I remember there was a photo of her in the text books too. As Jahangir’s favourite wife she had played an important role in Mughal history. This is her story, all that wasn’t said in the text book. Mehrunissa’s life, and her journey to becoming Jahangir’s Nur Jahan.

The Twentieth Wife is an apt title for the story of Jahangir’s twentieth and last wife. There seem to be a lot covers circulating and all seem nice but the one I got, has a photo of Mughal architecture that I quite liked. The blurb is well written, explaining the importance of Nur Jahan, a bit about her background and what to expect. The book doesn’t let the blurb down.

The book is based on historical fact and Indu has used those facts to weave a rich story of Mogul India, the durbar of Akbar, his relationships with his wives and children, Salim’s desire for the throne, his becoming the Emperor Jahangir and between all this is Mehrunissa, slowing making her way towards the title of Nur Jahan.

The story starts in the time of the Mughals when Akbar reigned over India from Fatehpur Sikri. A time when Merunissa along with her family arrive as refugees from Persia. There on Indu takes us on a journey with the imperial court though India as it was then, from Lahore to Bengal. I could almost see all those places in my minds eye. I have always felt the Mughal courts had a lot of romantique and Indu’s book brought it alive for me. After Mughal-E-Azam, this is the next best piece of Mughal work I’ve ever come across.

The Twentieth Wife is brimming with characters, it’s too long a list but the characters stick with you. Somehow through the book I remembered them; some fondly and some with anger. There were a lot of times when Mehrunissa tested my patience, Salim vexed me, Ali Quli had me raging, I felt sad for Abkar and I laughed out loud at Ruqayya’s games. Indu has drawn out and described each character richly; it almost feels as if you know them.

The Twentieth Wife is beautifully structured, it was like a little historical soap opera running in my mind’s eye as I read the book. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Mughal soap on TV, Ekta Kapoor do you hear me? This book holds lots of promise both in richness and length 😀 Wonder who’d play Mehrunissa?

I love stories of pre-independence India where Kings ruled and life was filled with intrigue. But I don’t often come across a book that is written so well that it transports me back in time. The last book I remember to do that was ‘Far Pavilions’ by M.M.Kaye and now ‘The Twentieth Wife’. I’m so looking forward to the next two books in the series – The Feast of Roses and Shadow Princess.

If you like me love stories of Kings and Queens, Rajas and Maharajas, The Twentieth Wife is a must read. It promises and delivers evenings filled with imperial grandeur and intrigue.

About the Author:
Indu Sundaresan like most authors today has a Masters degree from the US. Indu’s father was a fighter pilot and an avid storyteller, just like his father and Indu says that where it all started for her. Seems Indu currently lives in the US but there’s nothing about her current life on her website www.indusundaresan.com.

Buy On: Amazon | FlipKart

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  • What a wonderful review. I am a history buff too – I am going to read this book!

    Freya, are you coming to the Indibloggers (Microsoft Office 365) meet on June 2 at UB City at 12.30 pm? If yes, can I bring you any book? 😀

    Cheers!

  • Oh this is a must read Vidya. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so have a lot of friends it seems.
    Just registered for the event on Sunday and will definitely try and make it. Yet to check if hubby has plans. Anyway can I bring you the copy of The Twentieth Wife or The Legend of Amrapali? Both I’ve finished and enjoyed.
    Get me any book you’ve really enjoyed recently, fiction preferably. I quite like the element of surprise. :)

  • Yes, I would love that! Please do bring! I’ll carry a bunch and you take what you want. 😀 Looking forward to seeing you there!