Title: The Twentieth Wife
Author: Indu Sunderesan
Genre: Historical Fiction
Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sunderesan came to me at a time when Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James had mercilessly dashed my reader expectations to the fiery depths of ghastly disappointment. The Twentieth Wife came to me when I had begun to wonder about the deterioration of the level of literal hunger from readers world wide, that a book packed with such indigestible characters lived for one thing only – to satiate their maddening hunger for a physical connection that demanded a fulfillment of an unimaginably twisted fantasy through monotonous repetitions – had mesmerized the readers to a point that an exorbitant amount was paid for film rights. To recover from a disconcerting experience as this one, I needed a book that would be vastly different, and The Twentieth Wife provided a breath of a rejuvenating fresh air.
Set in the 1600s, during the Mughal period in India, The Twentieth Wife tells a story of Meherunnisa who we all have known as Nur Jhahan (light of the world), the most beloved, and twentieth wife of Emperor Jahangir, Akbar’s son. It is about her lifelong love for Jahangir that goes quite unrequited for most of the story in the book. A deeply compelling story about a woman’s faith in the man she loves, and the circumstances that keep them apart for most part of their lives. The Twentieth Wife also throws a light on the veiled world of the zenana – the politics that goes within the zenana, the competitive queens and concubines striving as hard as they can, to win the favour of the king. In addition, we also get a glimpse of the world of Mughal kings including Akbar and how power conspires evil within the emperor’s own lair – how son’s connive against fathers for the want of throne.
The Twentieth Wife indeed takes the readers on a fascinating journey to a remote past, of India’s connection to Persia. It is also a story about a close knitted family where a father dotes on his children and does everything in his power to keep the family safe and prosperous.
I enjoyed the book thoroughly and I recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction. Interesting facts about royalty and commoners of the 17th century India, provides the desire to keep on reading until the very end. The book surely deserves a five star but I settled for a four star, only because I felt that in very few occasions, the story had been stretched more than it was required. Other than that, the writing is well paced, character development is most credible and the plot is at its richest. The sequel to this book is called Feast of Roses, where we continue to follow Meherunnisa as Nur Jahan the empress of India. The commendation for the author rests on her undeniably brilliant talent of taking historical facts and weaving them into an incredible story where the readers get a vivid picture of everyday lives of both kings and commoners during the 1600s.