Fiction, History

The Twentieth Wife- Indu Sundaresan

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I joined Goodreads some three years ago and I was active there for a maximum of about half a day where my reader-self added some 80 books to my To-Be-Read list, which I completely forgot about. Over the course of three years, I kept getting book updates and reading challenge emails from Goodreads (Of course, I conveniently ignored them). It was not until we decided to start the blog that I actually logged in to my Goodreads account. (Luckily, I had not forgotten the password) When I was scanning through my very much forgotten TBR list, I came across a certain trilogy, written by an Indian writer Indu Sundaresan, added to my list. When I read the summary of the book, I absolutely knew why I had the whole set in my TBR read.The first book in the trilogy is ‘The Twentieth Wife’, followed by The Feast of Roses and Shadow Princess.

I ordered The Twentieth Wife from Book Chor at a considerable discount since it was out stock in Amazon at that time. Even though when ordering the book, I assumed that it was a second hand book, I was surprised to receive a crisp and fresh copy of the book, which was delivered to me in less than two days.

The Twentieth Wife is a story based during the Mughal Raj of the controversial love story of Mehrunnisa Ghias Beg and Prince Salim, more popularly known as Nur Jahan and Jahangir. Mehrunnisa, who is just 8 years old when she lays her eyes on Prince Salim (thirteen years old at the time) on his wedding day, is immediately smitten by the prince. At the raw age of eight, she decides one day she will rule the Mughal Empire with him someday. Akbar’s Chief Queen, Ruqqayya notices Mehrunissa and starts spending quality time with her and eventually has a hand in getting her married to Ali Quli, a powerful and well  known soldier in Akbar’s imperial army, even though Prince Salim who had a brief encounter with Mehrunnisa had informed the king of an interest in marrying her. The writer takes us through well blended course of lies, deceit, treachery, betrayals, marriages of Prince Salim, war, motherhood, power struggle, political rivalry spread over fourteen years. After the death of Ali Quli, Prince Salim (known as King Jahangir, after his coronation) finally marries Mehrunnisa (who is renamed Nur Jahan by the King). It is said that Nur Jahan was Jahangir’s favourite wife, the only woman whom he married for no political reason but love. Nur Jahan is also said to be the most influential women, not only Jahangir’s imperial zenana but in the whole empire. Her influence and hold over the King was so strong that the crowd believed she had performed some witchcraft over Jahangir.

I have to admit when I started reading the book; I assumed that it was going to be purely fictional. In addition, owning to my never-ending fascination with Indian History, I wanted to read something from a completely different perspective, which I expected the book to have. As I started reading the book, I had a sudden urge to google about the two main characters of the book and I discovered that 80% of the book was factual to the point that at some parts I felt like I was back in school reading a history book about Mughal Dynasty. The non-fictional parts were what has not been documented and proved but has been speculated over the course of history The book claims to be a romantic novel and yes it does have glimpses of romance for about 4 chapters.

My issues with the book are that
1) This edition has many typing errors and the publishers should correct it.
2) At times, certain portions covered in the book included flash backs in continuity with the present of story and I had to re-read it a couple of times to understand that it was flashback. (but I overlooked it)

Sundaresan has, without a doubt, managed to blend the fictional and non-fictional skillfully. I am very selective when it comes to Indian authors but I am more than eager to start reading the next book, The Feast of Roses. I recommend this book as a must read for those who enjoy Indian History. For those who do not, the book might tilt a little towards boring.

Overall, I rate this book a 4.3 out of 5.

We really hope that you liked this review. If you have read it, please let us know of your take on the book. Or any other suggestion you might want to provide.

Have a great day!!




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