Indu Sundaresan’s novels are poised with such skill and exquisite details that one can’t help but immersed in the rich world of Mughals. She weaves a tapestry of love, romance, opulence, zenana politics, rivalry and treachery which call out to the reader. A world of enormous power and velvet lined cruelty.
The Twentieth Wife is a historical novel set in India under the rule of Mughal Empire in 17th Century. During Emperor Akbar’s regime when India was going through its Golden period, destiny was preparing an ordinary girl to become an empress in her future. By the virtue of her sharp mind, intelligence and enchanting beauty she would one day became Emperor’s Jehangir’s most trusted and loved companion. Mehrunnisa who is also known as Nur Jahan, the ordinary woman who became Emperor’s Jehangir’s Twentieth Wife and his true love was a daughter of an ordinary Persian refugee Ghias Beg, who fell in love with Prince Salim at the age of eight while looking at him through zenana balcony. When Prince Salim fell hopelessly in love with Mehrunnisa in her youth, things didn’t go well for them. Failed loveless political marriage, years of separation and lots of political drama and turmoil took them to bring together.
The essence of this book does not lie in knowing what happen next coz we all know that part, where Jehangir married Mehrunnissa and their marriage lasted for a lifetime. What makes this book one seamless read is the beauty of its unfolding.
Author has carefully done her research and so flawless is her attention towards history and detail that where ever embellishments she may have made, whatever creative license she may have taken with the actual events remain unnoticed. The book has also provided a list of main characters at the front, which is very helpful. But I wished that it had list all the characters though coz many of them had similar names which crafts confusion at times.
This is not just a love story but a story of women’s role in the Mughal Empire and how they were able to influence and outline the history even though they don’t have any official power or any rights at all. It showed ambition- not only of men, of the lower classes, of children’s – but also from women. The women’s in the book were not either degraded or idealized (which happens often) but are portrayed as flesh and blood.
Personally I loved this book for its logical, intelligent remarks made from time to time and how facts and fiction are combined with history and romance which gives this novel its own uniqueness. But in the end author also mention about the next book which carry forward the story of Nur Jahan and how she became one the most powerful Empress of India.