Book Review: The Twentieth Wife – Indu Sudersan

20th Wife1

Sundaresan’s novel draws a vivid and colorful picture of 17th century India under the Mughal rule.

The underlying theme of the seemingly faceless, mute and therefore mysterious mughal women wielding power over the monarchy by the force of their love provides an enthralling story line. The descriptions of the Mina Bazar, a market solely for the women belonging to the Royal harem to be able to move freely without being veiled, drives home the extremely cloistered life these women lived, where once they enter the zenana, neither do they see any man other than the king for the rest of their lives, nor does any male not of immediate family ever catch a glimpse of them.

The wealth of detailed descriptions of the lifestyle, locale and time, helps provide a creative imagination with a clear picture of life in India during the 17th century. This story about Mehrunissa, who broke all the established customs of that time, who, at the age of 34 (when women were discarded as old and useless) managed to capture the King’s fancy to the extent that he married her as his twentieth wife holds the reader enthralled until the finale. Though this book is a fictionalized version of Indian history in the 17th century, most events are accurately recorded, showing that the author has done her homework! A must-read gripping tale of love and hate, desire and ambition, treachery and debauchery.

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