twentieth wifeTitle : The Twentieth Wife

Author : Indu Sunderesan

ISBN-10: 0743428188

ISBN-13 : 978-0743428187

Paperback : 416 pages

The Plot :

Set in the 15th century Mughal empire, Indu Sunderesan’s ‘The Twentieth Wife’, is the story of the most powerful and influential empress of the Mughal dynasty. It tells us the story of Mehrunnisa later known as Empress Nur Jahan. The book is works for historic fiction, with a lot of its facts having a basis in reality.

The underlying theme of the book is how the women held a very real power in the Mughal Empire, from behind their veils. This is the first instalment of the Taj Trilogy. It starts with the birth of a girl in the dessert during a storm, whose parents had decided to give her up. Little did they know that in the coming years, she would become one of the most powerful empresses to ever rule the Mughal Empire.

Being raised in the vicinity of the Zenana (quarters of the royal women in the Mughal empire) most of her childhood, Mehrunnisa saw Prince Jahangir during his first wedding when she was just 8. At that age she had decided in her mind that someday she would marry him. And as history would have it, she did marry him, becoming his twentieth and last wife.

The books takes you through Mehrunnisa’s life, her childhood years in the Zenana, interactions with the then empress Ruqayya Begam, her first marriage to a soldier in the Mughal Army, competing with Empress Jagat Gosini and other trials that kept her from the love of her life, Jhangir. With steady determination she managed to get the attention of Jhangir over his harem of wives and hundreds of concubines and established herself as the Empress, the most important of his wives.

From page one the books is engrossing. It is not just the characters but also the time and the places that are discussed in the book that drew me to it. Although you know the end, it is the journey of Mehrunnisa’s life that is so intriguing. Sunderesan’s writing is mesmerising and describes beautiful scenes in the book with a language that makes the reader feel they are standing in midst of the intricately described bazzars, the palace, the Diwan-i-Aam, the court, the harem etc. It is a must read for anyone who fancies the Mughal Empire. One of the most beautiful books I have read.


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