Book Reviews: "The Twentieth Wife" and "The Feast of Roses"

I haven’t done any book reviews in a while, not because I haven’t been reading, but just because I’ve been reading a lot of random books about farming and making baby food and other topics I thought might not be of particular interest to the broader readership.

This weekend, however, I read two fantastic novels by Indu Sundaresan that I thoroughly enjoyed and think readers might also like (I found out about them from Heidi’s LibraryThing list, thanks Heidi!).

“The Twentieth Wife” and “The Feast of Roses” trace the life of Mehrunnisa, a most unusual Empress in seventeenth century Mughal India. Sundaresan paints glorious pictures of the sumptuous and intrigue-filled court – her descriptions are fascinating from a historical standpoint without detracting from the main plotline of Mehrunnisa’s rise to power. We follow Mehrunnisa from her common birth as a Persian refugee, to her father’s change in fortune in India, to her eventual marriage as Emporer Jahangir’s twentieth, but most beloved and important, wife. Mehrunnisa then wielded enormous and unprecedented power until her husband’s death when she was effectively banished and forgotten. History remembers her niece Arjumand (Mumtaz Mahal) whose posthumous memorial, the Taj Mahal, symbolizes the Mughal era, far more than Mehrunnisa herself.

I found these books to be engagingly and beautifully written, educational, and, most surprisingly for books about an imperial harem, not in any way lascivious. If you don’t know much about this period in India’s history, or even if you do, I recommend these two novels.

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