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Condition: Used: Good
Comment: Ex-library book. The item shows wear from consistent use, but it remains in good condition and works perfectly. All pages and cover are intact (including the dust cover, if applicable). Spine may show signs of wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting.
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The Twentieth Wife: A Novel Hardcover – January 29, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 221 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Twentieth Wife Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In The Twentieth Wife, first-time novelist Indu Sundaresan introduces readers to life inside a bejeweled, dazzling birdcage--the world of the Mughal Court's zenana, or imperial harem. Her heroine exercises power in the only way available to a woman in 17th-century India: from behind the veil. At the age of 8, Mehrunissa (the name means "Sun of Women") has already settled on her life's goal. After just one glimpse of his face, she wants to marry the Crown Prince Salim. And marry him she does, albeit some 26 years later, after overcoming the opposition of her family, an ill-starred early marriage, numerous miscarriages, and the scheming of other wives.

The story's gothic trappings have a basis in fact. As Sundaresan writes in her afterword, the historical Mehrunissa exercised far more power than was usually allotted to an empress, issuing coins in her own name, giving orders, trading, owning property, and patronizing the arts. (Curiously, the book ends just as Mehrunissa is ascending to the throne as empress, dwelling on her years of powerlessness and struggle rather than those of her enormous political influence.) Although the empress was fabled in her time, we know next to nothing about the woman herself. Unfortunately, Sundaresan does little to flesh out this intriguing figure. Despite the vivid historical detail, the reader remains more aware of the author's presence--and her own contemporary take on women's issues--than of her characters' inner lives. --Mary Park

From Publishers Weekly

Sundaresan's debut is a sweeping, carefully researched tale of desire, sexual mores and political treachery set against the backdrop of 16th- and 17th-century India. It centers on the rise to prominence of Mehrunnisa, the beautiful, intellectually astute daughter of a Persian courtier to the Mughal emperor, Akbar. Mehrunnisa falls in love with Akbar's heir apparent, Salim (who later becomes Emperor Jahangir), in her childhood; although Jahangir comes to share her passion, fate and the dictates of his royal station keep them apart for much of the novel. It isn't until Mehrunnisa has weathered a disastrous, loveless marriage to the brutal soldier Ali Quli, several miscarriages and the jealous plotting of Jahangir's chief wife, Jagat Gosini, that she gets the chance to defy the male-dominated Mughal culture and become a savvy, powerful empress. Like most historical fiction, Sundaresan's novel takes its fair share of liberties with plot and characterization, but still endeavors to be factually accurate as much as possible. Sundaresan charts the chronology of the Mughal Empire, describing life in the royal court in convincing detail and employing authentic period terms throughout. Despite its descriptive strengths, however, the work doesn't quite convince as creative fiction. So much plot is squeezed into the novel that there's little time for character development Mehrunnisa and Jahangir are wooden and one-dimensional creations, and matters aren't helped by the often stilted prose ("restlessness rose over her like tide on a beach"). Regardless of the wealth of edifying historical detail, this tale of palace intrigue is less than intriguing. 5-city West Coast author tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atria; First Edition edition (January 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743427149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743427142
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (221 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #487,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 1, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This historical novel is based on facts of the late 16th and early 17th century rule of the Mughal Empire in India. The main character, Mahrunnisa, was real - a woman who married the Emperor when she was no longer young, and who then ruled the Empire with him. The story is sweeping and romantic.

To be honest, I read the first 50 pages of the book and decided not to read any more. It seemed formulaic at first. And I also have a politically correct streak in me about books always being written about empires rather than common people. And so I put the book in my give-away pile. Then I went to sleep and when I woke up I was thinking about the story. And so, I raced home that evening, picked up the book, and read another 150 pages at once, gobbling the book up in big chunks until I had thoroughly read and enjoyed all 396 pages.

What a book! What a story! What an interesting history lesson!

The Mughal Empire was so vast and so rich that it was inevitable that there would be lots of in-fighting for the throne. The Empire had a harem but only one of his sons could be Emperor. Competition was ugly. Wars were fought. Lives were lost. There was splendor and love and plain old fashioned good storytelling with the violence real but understated, as was the romance. I was totally captivated.

I loved it the book so much I am ordering the sequel. Can't wait to read it.
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Format: Hardcover
Sundaresan's novel draws a vivid and colorful picture of 17th century India under the Mughal rule. The underlying theme of the seemingly faceless, mute and therefore mysterious mughal women wielding power over the monarchy by the force of their love provides an enthralling story line. The descriptions of the Mina Bazar, a market solely for the women belonging to the Royal harem to be able to move freely without being veiled, drives home the extremely cloistered life these women lived, where once they enter the zenana, neither do they see any man other than the king for the rest of their lives, nor does any male not of immediate family ever catch a glimpse of them. The wealth of detailed descriptions of the lifestyle, locale and time, helps provide a fertile imagination with a clear picture of life in India during the 17th century. This story about Mehrunissa, who broke all the established customs of that time, who, at the age of 34 (when women were discarded as old and useless) managed to capture the King's fancy to the extent that he married her as his twentieth wife holds the reader enthralled until the finale. Though this book is a fictionalized version of Indian history in the 17th century, most events are accurately recorded, showing that the author has done her homework! A must-read gripping tale of love and hate, desire and ambition, treachery and debauchery.
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Format: Paperback
as an avid reader of historical fiction, I can honestly say this is not the worst book I have read. However, the author's many mistakes really make this hard to read- for example, I have never heard of the word "Bapa" being used to address one's father (I grew up speaking Urdu)- and the author refers to the maternal grandfather as "Dada"- when the word is Nana. Mughal women did not wear "ghagara"s (loose skirts); rather they wore "gharaara"s, a sort of split skirt with embroidery and embellishments. And Muslims don't greet each other with "InshaAllah"- which means, God Willing- the author uses this phrase numerous times as a greeting or salutation. If you are familiar with the culture and language, it is annoying to read these mistakes.
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By A Customer on February 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Indu Sundaresan's The Twentieth Wife claimed my attention in a way that books rarely do. From the beginning I was vested in the characters, but even more strongly, in the time and place in which they live. The details are astonishing in their complexity, and Sundaresan is equally at home portraying the harsh conditions of a nomadic existence or the opulence of palace life. She has a gift for creating a sense of "place," and originating from that "place," her characters are memorable and compelling. Finishing the book, I felt as if I'd taken a journey, one both vivid and memorable.
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By A Customer on January 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Though too young and way beneath his station, Mehrunnisa, the daughter of a Persian courtier to the Mughal Empire, plans to one day wed the heir apparent to the throne Salim. The very intelligent eight-year-old Mehrunnisa knows she needs a plan if she is to achieve her impossible dream of marrying her beloved whom barely knows she exists.

A few years later Mehrunnisa is forced to marry a cruel soldier. Besides abuse from her odious spouse, she suffers several miscarriages. However, she ultimately succeeds in gaining more than just the attention of Salim, who is now the Emperor Jahangir, she shares passion with him. Finally, Mehrunnisa accomplishes her dream goal, but though now a powerhouse empress she and her family paid quite a price for her attaining her childhood desires that she never let go of as an adult.

Historical fiction readers that relish a deep look at seventeenth century India will gain much pleasure from this descriptive tale. The story line is loaded with historical references with a very illuminating portrayal of Mughal court life. However, the wealth of information, which seems authentic to this pre-school novice on the history of India, overwhelms the characters and thus undercuts the prime tale of Mehrunnisa's efforts to become the empress. Indu Sundaresan provides a vivid tale that the hard core sub-genre audience will want to read, but the weak characters make it difficult for casual fans to care what happens to Mehrunnisa or anyone else.

Harriet Klausner
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