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)
The Twentieth Wife is a tough nut to crack. You *want* to like it; it's painstakingly researched and brings the court intrigues of Mughul India to life. However, the book has a few really critical flaws:
1. It often skips the key events, describing them between-chapter narration, choosing instead to flesh out the areas between key events.
2. It's characters change sometimes without a sense of why. You get the sense that the author saw, in the History, a change in character, and then made the character changed in the novel without a good sense of motivation. A simple non-spoiler example (although by no means the most jarring) is Mehrunnisa suddenly becoming an expert craftswoman.
3. The pacing is very uneven -- threads are suddenly picked up and then dropped as promptly. It seems, again, as though the author were paying close attention to historical accounts and including things simply because they're recorded in the history. The sudden inclusion of the English & Portuguese at the end of the book is very jarring.
4. The story relies on the love between two characters, but that love doesn't feel believable. There is a sense that there is a more subtle story about power, status and money hiding in the facts which the author tries to skirt around in favor of some fairytale concept of love. However, the facts don't seem to fit the emotions the characters are meant to have. I wasn't convinced by being told, again and again, how much the motivation was love. It felt hollow somehow.
It was an enjoyable enough listen -- it got me through re-painting my apartment, but i was never lost in the story. The story and setting are quite interesting, the narration is very good, but the execution of the book is flat and somehow lifeless. I do not regret listening, but I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend it either.
First, this is a five star narration. Sneha Mathan was truly brilliant in giving voice to the characters. What a lyrical, rich, thoughtful and seasoned voice.
I felt the story was stronger in the second half than the first. Because the story adhered so closely to actual events and personages, I felt I was learning history while listening to Sundaresan's characters were embodied in Mathan's voice. This was historical fiction at its richest, I think, where the author fills in motives, feelings, dialog and thoughts about real events and people. The preface to each chapter is an excerpt from a historical piece and is a nice touch. You might find yourself, like me, looking up different references.
I agree with another reviewer that the concept of romantic love in the story probably was more prominent in the novel than in actual history. On the other hand, to avoid giving away a spoiler, I will say that there is plenty of evidence and reason to believe that the marriage alluded to in the title was different than those that usually took place. Story was really good, narration was even better.
I bought this on a whim during an audible sale and am very glad I did. My next credit will go towards purchasing the sequel, The Feast of Roses. It narrates the love story between Mehrunissa, the daughter of a Persian bureaucrat who flees his native land to seek better fortune in India, and Prince Salim (Emperor Jahangir) in late 16th and early 17th century India. The two meet as adolescents and are only able to marry as mature adults. Sundaresan is excellent in the small details - the tastes and smells of exotic foods, the ambiance of street life, of secluded royal courts, and of political intrigue and military campaigns. I imagine this book might appeal more to women than men. However, it provides a fascinating window into this period of Indian history. The narrator is wonderful, very expressive. Mehrunissa, by the way, is the aunt of the woman for whom the Taj Majal was built. She became a powerful political figure in her own right; this story is told in the sequel.
This is by far the very best book I have ever received through Audible and I almost passed it up because ancient history bores me to tears. The sample lured me in, and I'm glad I took a chance on this little gem. Both the writer and narrator have transformed the history of ancient India into a fictional masterpiece that really appeals to modern readers. This isn't your ordinary read it and enjoy it once kind of book. The entire story is a captivating production of greed, envy, defiance, lust and romance surrounding the larger than life characters. What's more, the amazing narrator delivers an award winning presentation in driving every character to the core of vivid imagination. Definitely a treasure I'll be enjoying again!
I really knew very little about the Emperors in India in the 16th and 17th century and therefore I really enjoyed this fictionalized novel of real events. It was very interesting to read of the court life and the hardships faced by those around the court, as well as the historical figures.
This is one of those books that is better listened to than read, because the reader's accent gives a charming dimension to the story.
There is a sequel to this book and another by the same author and I plan to listen to both of them.
Incredible images and descriptions from this well researched book....beautiful storyline that allows you to take a glimpse into the history of the Mughal Empire. Sundaresan's writing can best be described as fluid and elegant. The characters were well developed. The narrator made the story come alive. This is not a book you are sitting at the edge of your chair waiting for the next chapter, rather you are lounging on a comfortable chair basking in the imagery and perhaps silently appreciating the comforts of the 21st century.
At this time in Europe, a woman was the Queen of England but, in the Mogul empire, women could not earn money or own property. They were nothing without their husbands and they were required to give them children. A husband was often chosen for them and sometimes they could not even see their husband before they married.
This is the story of the marriage of a common woman in Hindustan, the daughter of a Persian refugee, to the Mogul Emperor. She had dreamed of marrying him since she was a little girl and he was a prince. This educated common woman saw that the only way a woman could have freedom and be self sufficient was to be in the royal harem. She won the love of the emperor prince but the emperor (his father) had already promised her to a man she had never met. The importance of propriety and honor in society prevented their families from calling off the arranged marriage for something as unimportant as love.
This was a riveting story of unrequited love in a time where women had no power or influence. It is also a sad story of a woman who was too intelligent to simply fulfill the duties of wife to a man she did not love.
The most interesting thing about this book is that, although the intimate details of their lives are fictional, it is rooted in historical fact. You can get a glimpse of the splendor and beauty of the Mogul Empire. I am not sure if the dates given in the book are in the christian or islamic calendar but, you can roughly match the events to western events with which we are more familiar.
First the good news: this is beautifully written - and the narration is outstanding. The bad news - the story isn't very interesting. Although the title character seems quite interesting, the book gets lost because of its focus on historical accuracy and its dogged effort to to lay out the history of the story rather than writing an interesting story. For example, of the first 8 hours that I listened to - much of it was about Prince Salim and his exploits. There were long stretches when the story had nothing to do with the title character. If you are looking for a history primer on this corner of the world at this time in history, you might like it.
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.
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.
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