Monday, November 5, 2007

The Feast of Roses

If you read below, you learned my love for The Twentieth Wife. I lucked out when Indu Sundaresan published its sequel, The Feast of Roses. We join up with Mehrunnisa again, now in her 20s (and through most of the rest of her life). She's fulfilled her dream of marrying into the Empire, and the book follows her struggles to maintain power amongst her husband's other 19 wives and against her husband's personal assistants who feel the Emperor already gives too much power to his latest wife.

Mehrunnisa was an early feminist, demanding that she be able to hold court alongside her husband - while women usually have to sit above, behind a veil - and help him make his decisions. The Emperor was very accommodating toward her - she was his one true love - and, to me, he was unique among the men of those times. He respected his wife, loved her and her child, and valued her opinion, as she was very smart. Almost everyone within the Empire disagreed though, and Mehrunnisa's relationships with her friends and family suffered because of it.

Wives of the Emperor usually obtained assets of some sort - most likely a fleet of ships that they could manage and reap the monetary benefits from. This was very interesting as the book examined the trade relations between England and India as an offshoot of the main story. Also, if something were to happen to the Emperor, while Mehrunnisa could stay within the Empire, her power would diminish. Unless she could marry her daughter to one of the Emperor's many other sons. When her husband becomes sick, the book takes us through her determination not to lose the power she's worked so hard to gain.

I found The Feast of Roses, like The Twentieth Wife, to be very educational of the times. Even though the finer details of Mehrunnisa's life are exaggerated, the hierarchy, the customs, the names and the events (ex: construction of the Taj Mahal) are all very true. While the ending is bittersweet, it is nice to see Mehrunnisa's life through to the end.

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