This is a story of love, politics, and hardships that takes place in seventeenth century India. Now, this may not sound appealing to non-history lovers but I promise there is something for you too! Not only does Indu Sundaresan incorporate accurate facts about the Mughal Empire that once was, but she makes the overall story relatable for teenagers and adults alike. I first read this book when I was very young and just beginning high school. Without much of an appreciation of history or anything for that matter, I had doubts that I would enjoy this book when it was first suggested to me by a relative. However, upon finishing the novel I was awestruck. I never thought that a story about a girl with an unfortunate upbringing becoming one of the most powerful women ever to be a part of the Mughal Empire would have so much impact on me. I was only fourteen and had a new found appreciation for literature and history. This was one of the first “grown- up” books I read, and I fully accredit my fascination with ancient history and love of reading to The Twentieth Wife.
This novel pursues the life of the aunt of the Empress of whom the Taj Mahal was built in honor of. One may question why an entire book is dedicated to a seemingly unimportant individual; but unimportant is the last adjective one would use when describing Empress Nur Jahan. She is one of the most powerful women ever to be recorded in history during the Mughal Empire, and her story is utterly awe-inspiring. She came from very humble beginnings, her parents struggling refugees that fled from Persia. She first laid eyes on her future husband when she was eight years old, and at his first wedding nonetheless. Despite the seemingly complicated obstacles, she decided with conviction that she will marry Emperor Jahangir one day. On her path towards this goal, she encounters many impediments, some not easily overcome. Emperor Jahangir must overlook her previous marriage and accept the fact that she has a daughter as a result; as one can imagine, these stipulations are very taboo for seventeenth century India. Against all odds, the Emperor deems these factors irrelevant and marries Nur Jahan. She is the twentieth and last Empress to be added to his harem, and the only woman he married for love. This provided her with an assembly of enemies which prove to be an issue in later years.
Though this novel is a work of fiction, Indu Sundaresan incorporated accurate historical facts into the amazing story of arguably the most influential Emperor and Empress of the Mughal Empire. This novel really does have something for everyone; there is crime, love, mystery, politics, family affairs, and even murder. This is only the beginning… If you read The Twentieth Wife and enjoy it, I strongly recommend reading the sequel The Feast of Roses. I truly believe this is an all-in-one story, executed magnificently by the author.