Skillfully blending the textures of historical reality with the rich and sensual imaginings of a timeless fairy tale, The Twentieth Wife sweeps listeners up in Mehrunnisa's embattled love with Prince Salim - and in the bedazzling destiny of a woman, a legend in her own time, who was all but lost to history until now.
©2002 Indu Sundaresan; (P)2006 Blackstone Audio Inc.
"Sundaresan writes in the great tradition of the Indian epic, an art she carries forward with grace and brilliance....This is a remarkably readable book despite the historical basis, with which many readers will not be familiar." (Library Journal)
"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....[She] charts the chronology of the Mughal Empire, describing life in the royal court in convincing detail and employing authentic period terms throughout." (Publishers Weekly)
As another reviewer has stated, this novel falls more along the lines of historical romance than anything else. I give it four stars for the lush writing, descriptions of the time and places, and vividly developed cast of characters. The narration is an added treat--Sneha Mathan does some of the best voices and accents I have ever heard.
The chief strength of The Twentieth Wife lies in its lively depictions of a very different culture and attitudes from the present day, while at the same time illuminating universal themes such as ambition and romance. I found Mehrunnisa's struggle with the limited role of women especially sympathetic, and her frustration was all too understandable. Her desire to enter the royal zenana had a ring of truth in that context, since it would open the doors to the kind of influence and power closed off to most women of her time.
That said, I confess to not liking the titular character or her romance all that much. This dulled my enjoyment of the book despite its excellence, hence the lack of a fifth star. It just seems a little too pat and easy that the love of Mehrunnisa's life and the man who could give her riches and power beyond imagination were one and the same. That really triggered my cynicism about the purported romance, a problem I have with all Cinderella tales. Furthermore, due to the limitations of the times, the only way Mehrunnisa could achieve her ambition was by pleasing a powerful man. That is very much in line with the reality of the period, and it was nice that she had the intelligence, drive, and luck to do so well for herself. It's just that the kind of "true love" that also happens to make you filthy rich and extremely powerful poses no interesting conflicts or dilemmas, so I could have done without all the gushing about love. If anything, it seems like a story of love of riches and power--something universal and understandable, but not particularly admirable in itself.
I loved this book, and the Feast of Roses, as well. It brought the Mogul Empire to life and kept me rapt for hours. The reader was splendid.
Fantasy and Romance Author
A historical novel in the vein of Philippa Gregory, chronicling the life of the woman who rose from humble origins as a Persian refugee's daughter to become a Mughal Empress, this book is a fascinating glimpse into the life, politics, and history of late 16th-century India.
What really makes this audiobook outstanding, however, is Ms. Mathan's terrific narration in Indian-spiced English. She skillfully and sensitively gives each character an individual voice. I will have to look up what else she's narrated!
Highly recommended for anyone looking for a well-written historical novel set in a period that hasn't been done to death.
I really enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. It was very long but that didn't really bother me - it was interesting and kept up the pace and the narrator did an excellent job - good story and characters - worth listening to.
Addicted to Audible!
I found this story to be tedious, despite the wonderful performance. I just didnt enjoy the story enough to keep listening after 4 hrs.
The narrator's voice is so soothing, hopefully I can find more works by her. Though the author is very good at describing the surroundings, the story was dull. The ending is especially unsatisfying with the length of this book. I was also especially disappointed because the summary painted this book as highly exciting, it was not.
I have read this book at least three times and having the audio book is a guilty pleasure. This story is a roller coaster of emotion that feels genuine and not forced. The pace of the book is great and the performer does a lovely job.
intriguing, descriptive, engaging
Mehr-un-Nisaa was my favorite character because she was willing to fulfill her duty and live the life she was expected to not necessarily the life she wanted.
The tiger. I loved the growling!
Prince Salim = Emperor Jhungeer. I would like to get to know him for myself and not only through the eyes of others who saw him for his power and wealth.
Took a little while to get into the story but soon after I became captivated. So sad the book had to end. Can't wait to read the sequel. Now when I go back to India I will have a much better appreciation of the history and the monuments I am seeing. Great historical fiction!
Fascinating story based in the history of India's Mughal Empire. The story is about Mehrunnisa, daughter of a poor Persian who comes to the empire to make his fortune. She meets the son of Emperor Akbar (third of the Mughal) prince Salim when eight, and falls in love with him on his wedding day, and decides that someday, she will become his wife. Through brief encounters, Salim becomes fascinated with her, much to the disapproval of his powerful third wife, Jagat Gosain. The novel then follows Mehrunnisa's marriage to another Persian —a decorated soldier in Akbar's army, the rebellions of Salim against Akbar (where her husband betrays Salim), the reconciliation between father and son, and Salim's rise to power as Emperor Jahangir. Like his father, Salim's eldest son rebels, with the help of Mehrunnisa's husband. We also see how Jagat Gosain works to prevent Mehrunnisa and Salim from being together. Ultimately, however, it is the story of how, throughout the years, she held a power over him that no other in his harem of 19 wives and hundreds of concubines held over him.
Sundaresan creates a wonderful, vivid picture of the world of late 16th to early 17th Century India. The vastness of the Mughal Empire, the climate and customs of the period, the variety of it's people, and the complexity of the politics of the time are woven together to create an engaging story. There was a nice balance between providing the details and terms while not reading like a textbook explaining every term and custom. All of the main characters were distinct, and fully realized — each with their own voice and behaviors, letting me sink into the story despite my unfamiliarity with the setting - historical and cultural.
I look forward to reading the two following books by Sundaresan - the next dealing with Mehrunnisa's rise to be the premier wife, and the power behind the thrown. I always enjoy reading about the unconventional women of history.
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