Indu Sundaresan: The Twentieth Wife

Posted by nybookworm on April 11, 2009

twentieth-wifeI was a history major in college, partly because I got to college and was amazed by how much of world history is entirely neglected in high school curriculum.  High school world history is a requirement but very little, if at all, is taught about Asian and African history and even less about the Indian sub-continent (none for me, but that may have changed since I graduated high school).  Which is partly why I loved The Twentieth Wife,  a fictional account of some of the major figures of the Muslim Mughal empire in India around the 16th and 17th centuries.  In particular, it is about the Mughal emperor’s imperial zanana (harem) and one woman, Mehrunissa (known as Empress Nur Jahan), who emerged to be Emperor Jahangir’s closest advisor and a huge influence in Mughal affairs.  Mughal emperors had several wives over a lifetime and each lived inside the palace in the zenana, an all woman (and eunuch) living quarter where they vied for the power and attention of the emperor.  Mehrunissa was the twentieth wife and, at the age of 34, already considered too old to be the wife of an emperor.  She shocked the empire and the emperor’s closest advisors by becoming Jahangir’s favorite wife and his most valued political advisor.  The novel is fascinating portrait of one of the most opulent times in Indian history and Sundaresan’s vivid description of the wealth and extravagence of palace life is very engaging.  Oddly enough, though Mehrunissa was the most powerful of the Mughal wives, it is her niece Arjuman who married Jahangir’s son who lives on in history as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. 

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Twentieth-Wife-Novel-Indu-Sundaresan/dp/0743427149


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