17 January, 2014

The Twentieth Wife - [Book Review]

Did you watch the movie Jodha Akbar? Liked it? Do you like historic stories? Do you like to learn about Mughal empire and a woman's life at that time?
If so, you will definitely enjoy reading this book 'The Twentieth wife' by 'Indu Sundaresan'.

Book Details:
Title: The Twentieth Wife
Author: Indu Sundaresan
Publisher: Harpercollins 

Brief: This is the story of Meharunnisa, a women whose family shifted from Persia to India as refugees to the court of Akbar. Her father Ghais Baig carried important posts in Akbar's court and his son Jahangir's rein including the role of treasurer and Diwan. Unlike other women at those times, Mehrunnisa who was later called as 'Nurjahan' was well educated. She always dreamed to become an Empress by marrying Salim (Jahangir - Akbar's son). Jahangir sees her in her step mother and empress Ruqaya's home and falls in love at first sight. He was already married twice by that time and couldn't talk to Meharunnisa because of his wife's presence. Meharunnisa's fate changes when Akbar suggests Ghais Baig to marry her to a Persian soldier 'Ali Quli' for political reasons. Even though she tries to raise her voice, keeps calm as his father cannot disobey King's order and get into trouble. Jahangir asks his father to talk to Ghais Baig about their marriage, but Akbar is adamant on changing his order. Thus, Meharunnisa marries Ali Quli who is as old as his father. She passes many years in bad marriage and also suffers a lot due to her inability to bear a child of him. At last, she conceives and delivers a baby girl. She starts leading life happily seeing her daughter grow, whereas Jahangir becomes King after Akbar's death. She always keeps herself abreast of Jahangir's political moves and decisions from her husband.

Jahangir gets to see Meharunnisa again on his son's engagement to her niece and his love blossoms again. Meanwhile, Ali Quli participates in betrayal plan against Jahangir and dies due to that. Meharunnisa is rescued and transferred to Ruqaya's palace safely with Jahangir's order and she spends her time by stitching and doing embroidery for women at harem. The remaining story is about how Jahangir approaches Meharunnisa and convinces her to marry him. When Jahangir asks her to be a concubine in his palace, she refuses and accepts only when he offers to marry her. Thus, she becomes an empress - 20th wife to Jahangir and also his best friend and guide later.

My take: 

More than the story, it is the detailing that attracts me in the book. The mindset of Kings, the role of women in politics, political moves and ruthless strategies to get the crown are covered well. 

There was a mention about Salim - Anarkali, but just 3 lines which says Anarkali was a concubine in Akbar's court and she was buried to death when she smiled at Jahangir while massaging Akbar. Not sure how far this is true. 

This story is a combination of facts and fiction. Author also explains the facts at the end of the book, which is good.

 I didn't feel the title is very apt. Meharunnisa at last marries Jahangir as 20th wife, but this book doesn't cover anything about what she does after that. Of course, i know it is first book of trilogy. But, if the book is only about Meharunnisa's life before marriage, wouldn't it be good to have a different title?

Overall: A fantastic read i would say to understand the richness of Mughal empire, their rule, their harem, their mentality and the political environment in those days.

Rating: 4.5/5

Until next time,


  1. Anonymous9:55 AM

    Twentieth wife?!

    I think I might be the exception here. Like you, I too enjoy the detailing but I really can't buy the thought that someone fell in love after nineteen wives. It sounds so sad for all those nineteen wives (and for the poor twentieth wife too).

  2. true Parichita.. I too felt pity of Meharunnisa to be 20th wife of Salim. Even though the book describes their love as eternal, i see selfishness in Nurjahan's mind from childhood to become an empress than love for Salim, of course there was attraction too between them. But i liked her character as she was the only one in very few lucky women of those times who has freedom and education. As book mentions at the end, Salim might have got his soul mate as wife who can understand and advice on politics and important decisions.

  3. I enjoyed your take on the book too :-)Thank you Ramya :-)

  4. Thanks A homemaker's Utopia.. sorry i dont know your name :)


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