The love story of Mehrunnisa and Jahangir from "The Twentieth Wife" continues in this novel. Mehrunnisa, or Empress Nur Jahan, becomes Jahangir's twentieth and last wife at the age 34, after a lifetime of longing for him. She is the first woman he married for love and as a result he gradually gives her roles and responsibilities usually strictly reserved for males.
Being a woman in the Mughal Empire with such power creates enemies for her. Her enemies, including Jahangir's first wife and the males of his court and Mehrunnisa's own brother and neice, slowly plot her downfall and destruction. Mehrunnisa's only survival mechanisms were the love Jahangir had for her and her own cunning mind.
Again, Sundaresan skillfully describes India and paints a vivid picture of the politics and culture of the 17th century Mughal Empire, where we also learn the history behind the Taj Mahal.
This report prepared by Jenna Evans
Atria, May 2003, 24.00
In the seventeenth century, most of India, that is those who would care about the emperor's harem, would expect that Jahangir's twentieth wife of twenty wives would be lower than an Untouchable. However, the Empress Nur Jahan, previously called Mehrunnisa, does not settle in her role as she breaks the tradition of royal life and the accepted behavior of females in the country. Mehrunnisa can get away with a lot more than say Jahangir's nineteen previous spouses, as she is the first woman he actually loves. The Emperor actually cedes her much power to run the country though her harem rivals led by scheming Empress Jagat plan to run her off and the court ministers refuse to have some upstart female steal any of their power.
Showing inner strength Mehrunnisa refuses to allow either of these two influential groups to stop her rise. She turns to her father, her brother, and the son of her husband for support. Though the fight is difficult and she and her daughter becomes estranged, through the love of Jahangir she never gives up.
The sequel to the delightful THE TWENTIETH WIFE, THE FEAST OF ROSES is an insightful look at the royal court of seventeenth century India. Though at times a bit slow, the story line is loaded with historical tidbits leading readers to conclude that Indu Sundaresan magically sent her audience back in time. Mehrunnisa is a strong lead protagonist, who quickly understands the balance of power and how to manipulate in a Machiavellian manner. The support cast provides insight into this protagonist. Ms. Sundaresan provides another Taj Mahal historical fiction.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner