Skip to main content

Book Review: The Twentieth Wife

A novel set during the Mughal period bringing to life characters from your History books, and possessing all the qualities of a good romance novel (and alas just that!).

It is not the first time that I keep colliding with a book everywhere I turn. 'The Twentieth Wife' by Indu Sundarsena and I bumped at Kindle lists, on the book blogs, some IG handles of book lovers I follow as well as on the comments and posts of the reading  group on FB. Thus, taking the hint from Providence I downloaded it on my Kindle along with  a handful of others, a few days back. I started to read it some 3 days back and finished this novel set in 17th century India yesterday evening.

The book tells the story of the woman- Mehrunnissa, whom we all have known fleetingly and as Nur Jahan, wife of Mughal emperor Jahangir. Born in to the family of a Persian refugee, Ghias Beg, Mehrunnissa is left out on the road by the desperate father who knows he can not take care of this blue-eyed child. She is brought back to him, along with a chance at a better life for him and his family by a trader who is on his way to the court of King Akbar. He introduces Beg to the King who bestows mansabs on the man and things begin to look up for the Beg family.

The 8 year old child sees Jahangir for the first time at his first wedding and decides that she must become his wife. Meherunissa, comes to inhabit the zenana of the Akbar's Padshah Begum Ruqaiyya and picks up the nuances of the imperial life. Years before, she is able to realise her dream of marrying Jahangir, she is married off to Ali Quli Khan, a mercenary from  Persia on akbar's orders. 

Most of the novel is made of all these years that Meherunnisa spends with her husband. Interspersed among the aching that this woman feels for the king, are the revolts, rebellions, of that time as well as Portugese conversion  and arrival of English merchants.

The book ends with Jahangir marrying Meherunnisa and giving her the title of Nur Jahan. The story thereafter of the Empress of India and her niece Arjumand Banu Begum or Mumtaz Mahal and her grand niece Princess Jahanara has been published in sequels completing a trilogy known as the Taj Mahal Trilogy. 

Coming to the writing part of the novel, the initial pages are tight and the story of the family on the run and the Mughal court is interesting. The rebellions, plotting and scheming, men and power struggles of the kings' harem keep you well engrossed for more than half the length of the book. Then it begins to sag and get repetitive of sorts till the end. I was hoping for some more twists in the plots but all I got was a glimpse of the courtship period of the two protagonists.

Another put off, was the editing faux pas in the book. Having been a sub, spelling mistakes, wrong punctuation marks and missing articles- they stand out and call my attention and have a huge impact on my own reading and evaluation of a book.

The book has a distinct flavour owing to liberal the use of Urdu words and that is one thing that really sets the mood of this novel. The author in a note in the book admits being intrigued by this woman who minted coins in her name, owned ships etc and hence her journey to bring her forward from the latticed curtains behind which the women of those times lived.

In my opinion she does succeed to a great extent though it would be only proper to treat the book as fiction rather than a slice of history. Read it if history and biographies are your choice of genres.

Title: The Twentieth Wife
Author: Indu Sundarsena
Genre: Romance/ History/ Biography
Paperback: 384 pages 
Price: Rs 280 (Paperback)/ Rs 211 (Kindle Edition);
Language: English
Rating: 3.5/5


Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: Eeny Meeny, MJ Arlidge

A spine chilling novel where Detective Inspector Helen Grace makes her first appearance. Read it for a prose that doesn't meander or wastes time in getting to the point.


I have bee postponing writing about Eeny Meeny because I wanted to be in a certain mood to write this review. There has only been one other book besides this one that has given me a sleepless night. That book was Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None'.

There is nothing graphic or gory in either of these books over which I might have lost sleep but the sheer reason for which people were being murdered, shook me up. Of course And Then There Were None is very atmospheric, that whole abandoned island, the morose weather, crashing sea waves- is enough to spook you. It is the woman herself- Agatha Christies- who is a master storyteller, you might just say.

Getting back to Eeny Meeny, credit should be given to Arlidge for creating a spell binding narrative doled out in small,…

Book Review: The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith #1

Precious Ramotswe- Botswana's only and finest female private detective makes her debut with this book which is divided into short stories like chapters, full of warmth, wit and intuitive charm, taking our detective to solve a case in strange locations amongst still stranger people.
The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith is everything that you might expect from a thriller novel and then some more. The book perhaps might seem like the life story of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's only and finest female private detective, from her birth till the time she sets up her agency and you might be tempted to give up, (if you are in search of blood and gore) but I would suggest against it.
The book not only gives you the entire history of the now thirty-five years old and large (but the traditional way) Precious Ramotswe and some of Botswana as to what this place and its people are like, but I believe that the very skilled Mr Smith is just setting the …

Seeking thrillers- Why I am reading mystery books this year

If you have been following me for sometime, you might know that I am on a personal mission to read as many first thrillers where a Detective or a Detective Inspector makes an appearance, from world over. So far, I have read some awesome Detectives etched by writers from the Nordic countries (Jo Nesbo, Helen Tursten, Kristina Ohlsson),  the US (JK Rowling aka Robert Galbraith) and this one that I am going to review next, from England (MJ Arlidge, this though is his fifth on the link). I have also read some remarkable stand alone thrillers like No time for Goodbye and the Japanese masterpiece Devotion Suspect X (which I think kicked my obsession with finding the first ones of the series and which was so mind-blowing that its review isn't even comprehensible slink to another one of his works that is also so so good. Must rectify that one someday though when I can get over the awesomeness).

You might wonder why am I doing it. Even I think what is this going to achieve and I don't…

Book Review: No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

If you would want to give your system a shock or a jolt then this book is for you. If you are facing a reader's block and thrillers are your thing then read this book. Pick this book if you want to have a good time page after page.

The Plot

No Time for Goodbye by the Canadian author Linwood Barclay is a nail biting thriller that is as simple and humane as it is complex. As a 14 year old Cynthia Bigge is dragged from her boyfriend's arms by her father who finds her sloshed in his car one night. Next morning Cynthia wakes up to find that her parents and brother have disappeared without leaving a single trace or note for her. The house is spic and span as her mother likes to keep it, nothing is out of place or amiss to suggest any kind of foul play and still no one can seem find anything about her family. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of this event, Cynthia agrees to feature in a documentary about this. A few days later strange things begin t…

Book review: Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson #1

Someone is abducting small children and leaving their dead bodies with UNWANTED scribbled on their foreheads. Fredrika Bergman is an academician and a civilian, and a new entrant on the investigation team whose instincts and insights are being ignored by her senior male colleagues at the Police department. Will the culprit keep getting away or will the team come together past its differences and nab him?

Whoever said a book will take you to places that you might not otherwise get a chance to visit. While I would say that reading any author is like going inside his head and at times there you will find how a psycho thinks and works and there you might also find the wonder and inquisitiveness of a small child.

Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson is a thriller that will take you through many Swedish towns and cities in search of the perpetrator of a crime that takes place in Stockholm. A young child of six, Lillian, is abducted from a crowded train. No one notices that t…