The twentieth wife

by Indu Sundaresan

Paper Book, 2002




New York : Pocket Books, 2002.


A novel set against the exotic backdrop of the Mughal dynasty of sixteenth-century India chronicles the life and times of Mehrunnisa, an intelligent, ambitious, and beautiful young woman who became one of India's legendary heroines.

User reviews

LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
I was not as enamored with this book as most of the readers here. I found Sundaresan's writing only mediocre and the story very much dragged in the last quarter of the novel. It cannot be denied that the main character, Mehrunnisa, is an interesting woman and seemingly well before her time in intelligence, form and breaking from the very well-worn traditions that shackled women of the time. That said, it never amounted to a great novel. Salim is not that interesting (almost tedious and trite), mostly came across as a petulant child and not a person I cared to read about. The pagentry of the Mughal empire(s) and the infratructure of the harems and such was fairly interesting, but could have been done better. Overall, recommended only if you have some interest in the Mughal empire or thoughts on who Mehrunnisa might have been. But if you are looking for a grand, sweeping adventure, this is not it. I did not care for it enough to read the second book in the series.… (more)
LibraryThing member mcelhra
The Twentieth Wife a historical novel set in India under the Mughal Empire in the 17th century. It chronicles the love between Mehrunnisa and Prince Salim. The author has stated that she based the story in factual information and took artistic license to fill in gaps where information was not available. This book had a list of main characters at the front, which was very helpful. I wish that it had listed all of the characters though – so many of them had similar names that it could get confusing at times.

This is not only a love story but a story of women’s roles in the Empire and how they were able to influence and shape history even though they didn’t have any official power or really any rights at all. Learning about 17th century Indian/Muslim culture was fascinating, especially since I was so ignorant of it prior to reading this book.

I loved this book and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, The Feast of Roses.
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LibraryThing member bibliophile26
What a fantastic book! Sundaresan creates a wonderful love story set in the Mughal Empire in the 16th and 17th century. Mehrunnisa firsts sees Prince Salim when she is eight years old and instantly falls in love with him, deciding that she will marry him someday. She holds her devotion for him in her heart despite the fact that she is not a princess, and married to one of his enemies. Learning about the harem is very interesting and this book is a real page-turner. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.… (more)
LibraryThing member Amaunette
This book makes me realize that I am really only familiar with American, European, and some Japanese history. The book is about a famous empress of the Mogul empire in territory including India along with some other countries. However, most of the book seems to take place before the character becomes empress, and her life is very sad. I don't know a lot about the culture, so a lot of the words are unfamiliar (like the forms of dress). It's very educational, and the story is very romantic, if a tad melodramatic. Apparently the next book is more character-driven, which I'll like.… (more)
LibraryThing member sgambill72
The book is a first novel by author, Indu Sundaresan, who was born in India. This book tells the tale of a woman raised in the Mughal empire. At first she does not realize the limitations of being a woman but soon recognizes the power held by the Emperor's harem and seeks it for herself.

I especially liked the author's ability to bring history to life. The rich descriptions of a foreign land and way of life drew me into the story immediately. It is full of adventure and intrigue. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction will enjoy this novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member GeraldLange
This book was absolutely terrible.
I cannot say anything more civil than this.
How did this thing get published?
Are standards really this low?!
LibraryThing member Suuze
I loved this book, as it put me solidly in India. I could almost *feel* the culture, taste it, live it. I admired the main character for her steely resolve and devotion, while always maintaining a demand for respect.Will read this again!
LibraryThing member grnpickle
I couldn't finish this one. Too much Indian vocabulary made my head hurt trying to figure out the meaning and keep up with the plot.
LibraryThing member cookbookkid
As it happened I was reading this book and learning about Akbar in World History. The main characters are extreamly well developed. Props to the author on her first book. Had to read the second and am enjoying it as much as the first.
LibraryThing member susiesharp
I am sorry to say this book didn’t do it for me. I wanted so much to like it but it just dragged on and on. There were parts that were interesting but for the most part I just wanted it over. This is supposedly a love story but I didn’t get that at all. Also the characters all just fall flat and I was glad I had a hardcover of this book to go along with the audiobook because it was hard to keep all the characters straight.

I can’t even really put my finger on just what I didn’t like. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood maybe it was the writing I’m just not sure. So if this time period and India intrigue you give it a try because it might just be me. I probably won’t read the second book to this one as I just didn’t come to care about these people enough at all. Her historical details (from what I’ve been able to search for) seem like she does a good job at the accuracy.

2 ½ stars
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LibraryThing member Nafiza
Indu Sundaresan’s novels are composed with such skill and such exquisite detail that you can’t help but be immersed in the rich world of the Mughals. She weaves a tapestry of love that cannot be denied, that refuses to be denied. A world of immense power and velvet lined cruelty. Her work is carefully researched and so flawless is her attention to history and detail that whatever embellishments she may have made, whatever creative license she may have taken with the actual events remain unnoticed. The prose has a rhythm and her characters rise up beyond their inky existences until they are living and breathing inside your mind. You are lost in the grandeur of the palace and embraced within the fold of the family. And when the Emperor and his Empress face danger and hostility, your heart shivers in response. Everyone should read what was perhaps one of the greatest love stories that ever happened.… (more)
LibraryThing member amybrojo
The Mughal Empire at its height . Great historical information with a juicy (true) plot!
LibraryThing member sholt2001
This epic saga is a fascinating account of the real-life story of Nur Jahan, the favored wife of Prince Salim of India. The novel spans the years between her birth and second marriage and the many trials a tribulations she faces to be with the man she loves. Much of the plot is taken from history with appropriate embellishment in the characters motivations and emotional lives. The social mores the characters adhere to, while entirely appropriate for the time, can be frustrating to a modern audience. Overall, an in-depth exploration of a time and place many of us may not be familiar with that is sure to suck you in.… (more)
LibraryThing member dandelionroots
Sundaresan weaves a vivid and brutal tapestry of noble life during the Mughal Empire (northern India through Pakistan and a chunk of Afghanistan circa 1600). Building upon available accounts from the time period, we learn of Mehrunnisa who eventually becomes Emperor Jahangir's twentieth and final wife at an unconventional 34 years old. Not realizing this was part of a series (why I'm currently in the middle of so many, waaaaaaah) and being ignorant of this history, I'm eager to obtain the next installment where she becomes Empress Nur Jahan (Light of the World) and rules one of India's largest and most powerful dynasties from behind a veil. Can't get the harem's assault of color and brilliance tinged with decay scrubbed from behind my eyelids - has someone written a story about a forgotten concubine (neither smut nor a tale of rising from that station)?… (more)
LibraryThing member amaraduende
This was interesting - a loved the descriptions of setting and atmosphere. The main character, as I remember, is slightly annoying and impersonal, but I liked the book for other reasons.
LibraryThing member crichine
The story of Nur Jahan before she became that. As a novel I liked it: full of color, drama, a love story.
History doesn't seem so accurate, but it's a novel and maybe historians don't agree between themselves.
I'm very much surprised with some of the Indian vocabulary. Why is she called "beta"? She's a girl, so she should be "beti", even with the explanation in the glossary. Again maternal grand-parents should be Nana and Nani. Even in the 16th/17th centuries. Insh Allah is not a greeting.
That's why I put only 3 stars
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LibraryThing member ghneumann
Sometimes I wonder how much the liking of a book is tied to the time when you first read it. I wonder if I would still love some of the novels I first read in high school as much as I do if I'd been older and had a more developed critical eye than I did then. I started reading the Twilight series in the wake of a bad breakup, and I remain fond of the series (especially the breakup arc in New Moon) despite knowing full well that they're not high-quality literature. It would stand to reason, I think, that some books I've read right after something wonderful seem particularly lesser-than in comparison, and sometimes books that followed a dull and plodding one seem even better than they might actually be.

So I wondered if The Twentieth Wife following the double punch of two brilliant novels in a row might have been contributing to my disappointment with it. Was I being entirely fair to the novel on its own merits? If I'd read it, say, after one of the Masks of God books would I have liked it more? Ultimately, I feel like the answer is that no, I'm not being harsh because it doesn't measure up to the two amazing books I just read, it's honestly not very good.

To start on a positive note, it did introduce me to an era of world history I know precious little about: the Mughal Empire of India. I'd only really known two things about it previously: the rulers of the Mughal Empire were Muslim, and that the Taj Mahal was built as a memorial for a Mughal empress, Mumtaz Mahal. That's pretty much it. So the details that this novel provided about the empire and its courtly life were new, interesting information, and I particularly enjoyed the way each chapter opened with a quote from a historical source about the characters and events to be presented.

What didn't quite work, though, was most of the rest of it. The writing quality isn't particularly was difficult to find a highlight quote because there were few bright spots. That's not to say it's especially poorly-written either, because it isn''s just mediocre. The novel tells the story of Mehrunissa, the daughter of a court official under the rule of Emperor Akbar. Although she is married to a soldier as a young woman, she and Akbar's heir apparent, Prince Salim, fall in love and eventually marry after her first husband's death. He becomes the the Emperor Jahangir, and she becomes his twentieth but most important wife, Nur Jahan, one of the most powerful women in the history of the Muslim world. She must be quite the interesting woman, eh?

Not really, as author Indu Sundaresan paints her. According to Sundaresan, when an eight year-old Mehrunissa catches a glimpse of Salim's first wedding at court, she decides right then and there that she will one day marry Salim. For no reason made particularly apparent, she attracts the interest of Akbar's most powerful wife, Ruqayya, as a companion, and spends her time at the palace thinking about how to attract Salim's attention so she can one day become an empress herself. Indeed, she spends her time at home thinking about the exact same thing. Even after she is married to another man, she keeps dreaming of a future with Salim. Mehrunissa is given no other real characterization besides "beautiful, educated woman completely obsessed with Salim". There's no depth or interest to her character. She has no close friends. Her first husband is presented as a one-dimensional brute who does not appreciate her or treat her very well. When the narrative shifts, as it does at times, to present Salim's story, he's presented as a weak-minded but ambitious man, easily manipulated, who is just as obsessed with Mehrunissa at first sight as she is with him. Neither of these people is given much of an inner life, nor are they at all compelling.

Which is disappointing, because from the Wikipedia-ing I was inspired to do, she led a very interesting life and a book about her should be fascinating. But a complete lack of character development and clunky writing have doomed this one to the donate pile.
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LibraryThing member gildaclone
While I wanted Mehrunnisa to succeed throughout the book, I couldn't help but compare it unfavorably to John Shors Beneath a Marbled Sky. Perhaps if I had read this book first? Mehrunnisa was not the most likable of characters and her instant attraction to Prince Selim seemed a bit superficial. Was it merely his splendor as the Prince that first attracted the child Mehrunnisa? But her interest in him developed, as did his character throughout the book. India was well described and definitely a presence, unlike other books in which it is only described a little as a background detail. I will be reading the sequels, for sure. This is a fascinating era of history, and Mehrunnisa seemed to be a woman ahead of her time but working within the boundaries of it.… (more)
LibraryThing member nkmunn
I wanted to like it more than I did - there may not be enough skeleton for the story or it may be that the actions of some of the characters are morally reprehensible and distance a contemporary reader quite far from the characters preventing immersion on the story itself ?
LibraryThing member Noeshia
I found this book by scanning the library bookshelves and finding a copy of the sequel. The covers are very vivid and it caught my attention. I am so glad it did now. I have truly enjoyed this look into a fictional version of the past. The culture is different from my own, so there was a lot that I had to take time to absorb. That was a positive for me, even as I had a hard time keeping new terms straight in my head. The instant love might be a bit of a trope, but the historical accounts the author read seem to have supported that, and maybe sometimes love is just like that. There's quite a bit of political upheaval and familial nastiness associated with political places of power that is forgiven by the characters, but it would have been.… (more)
LibraryThing member nx74defiant
The first in a trilogy. It is about Mehrunnisa's childhood and first marriage. At this point she has no power or influance. There is a lot about Jahangir's rebellions, trying to usurp his father. Than once Jahangir becomes emperor he has to deal with his son Khusrua doing the same thing.The book is full of political intrigue
LibraryThing member Jaguar897
I first read this book when it came out in 2003. The copy in the library was nice and fresh and just waiting to be cracked open. I fell in love from the first page. Over the years, I still had beautiful images from the book playing in my head. When asked to recommend a book this was usually my top pick. It is now 7 years later and thanks in part to a historical fiction challenge I decided to re-read this book. The same copy from 2003 has now passed many hands. I can tell the book has been loved by the many stamps on the due list and stains. I felt nostalgic while re-reading this book and reliving my first experience. The second reading was just as good as the first. The book pretty much as it all- Indian culture, beautiful descriptions, court politics, romance, etc. Oh and who can beat a harem full of beautiful, strong women?… (more)


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