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The Twentieth Wife: A Novel Paperback – February 18, 2003
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Chicago Tribune Good old-fashioned historical fiction....Full of jeweled beauties and crumbling ruins, [The Twentieth Wife] satisfies every craving for the pomp and mystery of India's past.
The Seattle Times Rich and realistic....A delicious story.
Chitra Divakaruni Author of Mistress of Spices and Unknown Errors of Our Lives Indu Sundaresan has written a fascinating novel about a fascinating time, and has brought it alive with characters that are at once human and legendary, that move with grace and panache across the brilliant stage she has reconstructed for them.
About the Author
Indu Sundaresan was born in India and came to the US for graduate school at the University of Delaware. She is the author of The Twentieth Wife, The Feast of Roses, Splendor of Silence, In the Convent of Little Flowers, Shadow Princess, and The Mountain of Light.
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Enjoy the book...and allow yourself to ponder the role you play as well as allowing the so either to confuse or not change!
Of course, Mehrunissa's beauty stuns all who see her. Yes, Salim, prince and heir to the Mughal throne, sees and so desires her. Does he get his wish? With a treasure like that of Aladdin's and where a wish is always a command, emperors and their sons always do. Sundaresan does not endow Salim with any extraordinary traits; on the contrary, she depicts him as one who enjoys his indulgences, connives to supplant his father and meters out punishment to his enemies in the cruelest most impulsive way possible. Not particularly wise, but infinitely self-protective in the diabolical way of all contenders to a throne where rivals share blood, Salim is not a man of infinite goodness with his head and shoulders symbolically higher to those of other men. Only as emperor does he have power. Are we to believe that Mehrunissa loves the man Sundaresan portrays or does she love his status?
Likewise, Mehrunissa's character is not fully fleshed out either. We see her through her childhood as a semi-willful child. Educated and a bit outspoken, she contains herself to play within the rules of the harem of which she becomes a part from her days as the Emperor's head wife's pet. As all other women of that time, she marries the man she is told to marry for the sake of property and alliances, but other than that we learn little about her in terms of her drive and motivation. She is intrigued with Salim, but what can she do to get what she wants as she controls so little?
Sundaresan uses a third person narrative, but would have been better off approaching the story from the perspectives of the two major characters. Show me the development of Mehrunissa's thoughts so that I understand how she feels about the heir to the throne. Just how strongly does she feel when she succeeds, how does the fact that she is a woman in a country where females live behind a veil impact her actions? How frustrated do the laws that regulate her make her feel? Would we, as modern readers, object to her having contemporary thoughts? Surely the idea of freedom is timeless and universal.
Sundaresan tells us that Salim attempted to sicken his father with tainted food--we understand that he does this to ascend to the throne, but we do not have his reasons from his vantage point. How does he feel about being manipulated by his women and advisors who want power for themselves? With all this turmoil swirling about this world at this time, I would have liked to see the two characters come together as if finding an oasis in one another. I wanted to feel the romance and get so immersed in the palace intrigues that I did not know or care what time it was or that I needed to put the book down in order to do other things. Sadly, this sense of losing time within the pages of this book never happened.
"The Twentieth Wife" is not a quick read. Somehow the author does not make the story compelling enough to have the reader reading like mad and flipping the pages to get that satisfaction that only a good climatic ending can give. In fact, the novel ends on a flat note, with the promise of a second novel detailing Mehrunissa's reign as Salim's favorite wife rather than bringing to fruition an important theme like `love as completion' or `hardship and sacrifice has long-lasting rewards." Some of the wars and plots to unseat the emperor detailed within the middle sections of the novel seem never-ending. The focus should be on Salim and Mehrunissa and how their love either completes or destroys them. The rest adds historical authenticity but frustrates the reader with too much detail and action with secondary characters with difficult sounding names.
Bottom line? The Mughal Empire depicts an India of lush power and infinite beauty as symbolized by the sublime architecture of the Taj Mahal. "The Twentieth Wife" by Indu Sundaresan attempts to portray that slice of time with her version of the love story of the Emperor Jahangir and his last wife Mehrunissa. Whether or not she achieves historical authenticity I do not have the scholarship to judge. Nonetheless her prose becomes dry at times; her characters semi-fleshed out and their motivations never really explored. Like other novels focusing on the power of the harem denizens, this one's strength lies in its ability to depict the manipulations and machinations of the women behind the seraglio walls. If you enjoy this time frame look also at Beneath a Marble Sky: A Love Story. If the harem is your forte try the novels of Janet Wallace (Seraglio: A Novel), Ann Chamberlin (Sofia,The Sultan's Daughter,Tamar) and Katie Hickman(The Aviary Gate: A Novel). Recommended only if you must read something fictitious about Mughal India.
Diana Faillace Von Behren
The story is about Mehrunissa, the daughter of refugees, who's family climbs the social ladder. At age 8, she finds herself mesmerized by Salim, the future heir to the throne. She immediately thinks he is beautiful and later develops feelings for him, and through the years she dreams of becoming one of his wives. She is enthralled by the power struggles within the harem and learns to make the right alliances. Even if the allience parties have their own agendas for befriending her. Salim's feelings for her are also very interesting. While reading other scenes I was looking forward to their next meeting. Mehrunissa was a real pip. Definitely a woman ahead of her time. She transcends from a child in a poor family, who cannot afford to feed her, to one of the most powerful women in the History of India.
This is an inspiring and very romantic story. I am sure that Historical Fiction fans, as well as anyone that enjoys a well written and romantic story, will find it truly delightful.
Most recent customer reviews
A B 2 R - a book 2 read any time history with fiction