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Book Review: The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sudaresan

First in the Taj Mahal Trilogy, this novel explores the love affair of the Mughal Emperor Salim and his twentieth wife Mehrunnisa who was a refugee from Persia. The book is about how she eventually became his wife despite coming from a very poor family. The book is a great read for those who love Phillipa Gregory’s books. The author has done wonderful justice to that era by providing lucid descriptions of that Mughal era.


The description of palaces, cities, towns, clothes, food, rituals and festivals is overwhelming. Reading descriptions carefully, the India of that era comes alive vividly before your eyes. You can feel the soft murmur of silk curtains, the clunking of wine goblets, the heavy scent of jasmine flowers and sandalwood and incense in the palace rooms, the rough Gulal of Holi, the soft giggles of the harem ladies as they lounge in the courtyards of the palace, the heat of the plains and the cool of the heavy monsoons, the jingle of gold, ruby and emerald jewelry, the dazzle of the diamonds sewn on the royal garments, the soft sink-your-feet-completely kind of plush carpets.

Insight peeps like the aroma of the royal kitchens where if a single cook even sneezes, he is sent out and his dish thrown away and remade from scratch. That’s hilarious that the emperor of India cannot be given a ‘sneezed at’ food.

The intricate designs on red sandstone palaces, the vast Agra fort with the Yamuna River next to it and innumerable sub-palaces inside it housing the Emperor and his Zenana. This book is indeed a treat for your mind. Let your imagination be guided by Indu Sundaresan's words.

As for the story itself, it will keep you engaged too. The political games, power play and all the family drama happening inside a royal family where everyone is hungry for power, all of this will hold your interest.

Be careful, although you will be fascinated by descriptions, well towards the middle of the second book, you may feel like it is a hard and heavy one. The story seemed to be getting overwhelmed by the descriptions. It slowed down the pace of the story. On a safer side, don’t pick the second book immediately. However, both the books are recommended. For Indian readers, it will make them overwhelmingly proud to know that an Indian writer has penned down such a fabulous and fine book with the Indian history in the backdrop. Not so captivating book, but the title of the book has been twisted for the sake of gaining some popularity in the heat of Triple Talak argument.

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