Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Twentieth Wife

One of my best friends borrowed me this book more than a year ago. She had read a few years before that and loved it. She's big into historical fiction, or was at the time. I had run out of things to read and was starting to panic. Fortunately she came to my rescue and provided me with several books at once. I started with The Twentieth Wife, even though I was uncertain if I would enjoy historical fiction as much as she did.

Written by Indu Sundaresan, The Twentieth Wife takes place in India in the 17th century. It follows Mehrunissa from the day she was born, as her father searches for a better life for his family and ends up in the royal court of the Mughal Emperor. The book tells of Mehrunissa growing up in the imperial harem, falling in forbidden (and semi-secret) love with the Emperor's son and direct heir, and her arranged marriage to a soldier.

For me, the book was magical. Through Sundaresan's detailed way of writing, I felt I could really picture this kingdom. Though it's still fiction, I also felt I learned a lot about India in the 1600s and the hierarchy of the Empire. How rich they were! The fabrics, the gold, the jewels, the fact that the whole kingdom - hundreds and hundreds of people - would move across the country in the summer, to stay somewhere cooler. The harem politics were particularly interesting, as was the realization that lies, backstabbing, revenge, and ultimately love, are the same now as they were hundreds of years ago. This book got me on my kick of reading Indian fiction, as will be illustrated in posts to come.

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