Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan (Wishlist Granted!)

A month ago, I was doing groceries at a local mall when I felt the urge to go to the used bookstore shop nearby. Whenever you go to used book shops, you can't really expect to getting a specific title, but more of a certain 'genre' that you want to read. On that particular day, magic happened and I got both the title and genre I wanted

I was able to spot The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sudaresan after overturning some books, looking for some interesting titles. My heart was racing as I glimpsed this cover:

I couldn't believe my luck, plus I only had to fork over PHP50 to get this! What are the chances?! I was so happy going home and excited to get started on reading.

Here's the Book Blurb:

"An enchanting historical epic of grand passions and adventure, this debut novel tells the captivating story of one of India's most controversial empresses - a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles, and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal Empire. Skillfully blending the textures of historical reality with the rich and sensual imaginings of a timeless fairy tale, The Twentieth Wife sweeps readers 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 lost to history until now."
The novel starts in Persia, where Mehrunissa's lineage is traced. Her family has Persian noble blood, and her father, Ghiyas Beg, served under the imperial court and was a respected aristocrat. But before Mehrunissa was born, their House had begun its decline due to the changing of rulers, which meant "changing guard" inside the court as well. The family migrated to India after falling through its darkest times.

Ghiyas Beg had a good reputation and a good name, and had years of strong tenure in the Persian court which he hoped will be enough to grant him a position in India's royal courts, under Emperor Akbar's reign. He quickly absorbed the intricacies of the Mughal court, and in time proved himself to be indispensable.

Because of his position in court, his family led a more comfortable life with access to the inner Royal courts. Mehrunissa grew up in the presence of the ladies of the Zenana, the group of wives and concubines of the Emperor. She grew close to the Emperor's first wife, the chief lady of the Zenana, and it is there that she flourished and her link to Prince Salim, the next in line to the throne, was solidified.

The novel spans at least two rulers of Mughal India, Emperor Akbar and Emperor Jahangir (Prince Salim) so there's a lot of intrigue, drama, war and conflict in between. If you're looking for a quick love story though, this is not the novel for you. Mehrunissa and Prince Salim's exchanges are very few and very, very far in between (think: start of the novel and end of the novel and nothing else! Hahaha!)

It is such a romantic, enthralling, sweeping and deeply historical book. I can't rave enough about books that delve into the detailed traditions and customs of a certain culture, and this book does not disappoint in that regard! The narration is quite rich with atmosphere, and the dialogue has a personality that rings true with the person talking, as if you can almost hear the velvety voice of Empress Ruqayya, the exasperated sighs of Emperor Akbar, or even the rich timbre of Prince Salim's voice.

But I was deeply touched by this story! I couldn't help hating some of the ladies in the Zenana, especially Jahangir's first wife, Jagat Gosini ("Name pa lang, evil na!" I thought to myself one time while reading hue hue hue) But I guess her jealousy has ground, because if you're privy to both Mherunissa and Jahangir's internal struggle with their passion (they meet once when they were young, both were intrigued and could not get each other off their minds, and they meet again more than two decades later and you can almost tell their thoughts are ready to combust) then you may think that Gosini is totes justified in her jealousy.

And how beautiful is this quote?

"He had been her choice when she was eight, was still her choice when she was thirty-four, and would be equally important to her for the rest of her life."

That is some kind of intense.

The Twentieth Wife is my most wishlisted book of all time (Of all time! ~Kanye West) if you check this pathetic post; I didn't really think that I would be able to actually get my hands on this lovely book. And if I may quote: "Oh, why do I want books that are impossible for me to buy?!"

Now I stand (sit?) corrected! Well, not really completely true, because if you saw the date of the posting, I blogged about it "March 29, 2009" I mean, it was soooo long ago it even surprised me that I remembered the book and how much I wanted it.

But even after 4 years of patiently waiting, scouring used bookstore after used bookstore, I finally have it and have read it page after precious page. To paraphrase Mehrunissa:

"This had been her choice when she was twenty-two, was still her choice when she was twenty-six, and would be equally important to her for the rest of her life."

:') I wonder if I can find the next installment of this book, The Feast of Roses, soon?

Wish me luck! I need it for the next book sale scouring!
And thanks so much for reading!


  1. This does sound like a good book. I love stores about India. My favorite series is Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, though it can be hard going--the BBC TV series condensed a lot of it nicely. Also liked M. M. Kaye's books set in India.

  2. Thank you so much Jan!
    I am taking your recommendations to heart, since I'm still caught up in historical novels so your list will be perfect to add to the next book I'll be checking out.