I'm not really quite sure how to review this book. I'm not good at writing reviews, first of all, and particularly for a book like this, which I thougI'm not really quite sure how to review this book. I'm not good at writing reviews, first of all, and particularly for a book like this, which I thought was amazing and which I loved, it's even harder. I will caveat by saying that I am not going to do this book justice by any means here.
The story is about Moloka'i, an island off the coast of Maui, and in particular, an isolated settlement called Kalaupapa, where for decades, people who contracted leprosy - Hansen's disease - were sent. They were taken away from family and friends and essentially imprisoned there. The book follows Rachel Kalama, a little girl who is dragged away from her family at the age of seven, and shipped to Kalaupapa. We see her whole life, see the settlement and its people through her eyes, and learn so much about Hawaii's culture along the way.
This book caused me to smile, to laugh, and so many times, to tear up. I had to put it down at some parts because I just couldn't take any more. But I picked it up again almost right away because I had to know what happens next.
I was extremely engrossed in the book, in the world that Brennert created, or, more accurately, brought back to life. Everytime I surfaced back to real life, it was a shock, and when it finally ended, I had a really hard time extricated myself from its world.
The writing is simple, nothing over the top, but it's emotional and it really just paints a picture in front of your eyes. I also really liked the Author's Note at the end, with a bunch of books for readers who were interested in learning more, as well as the 'Get to Know the History' section which highlighted real people from Moloka'i along with some of their words.
Five stars, in my favorites, and definitely recommended!...more
Never judge a book by its cover. That is the oft-repeated mantra, which can be applied not just to literature, but to many other subjects.
In this caseNever judge a book by its cover. That is the oft-repeated mantra, which can be applied not just to literature, but to many other subjects.
In this case, even though I really wanted to read the book, the cover just blew me away. To me, it's a perfect representation of what the story is about: power, opulence, beauty, sensuality, and, above all, a need to step beyond the confines of a well-defined, though rather ill-fitting, role.
The woman on the cover is showing herself but only partially - her face is still hidden. And that was how I saw Mehrunnisa.
I never really knew the stories of the Mughal empire. Growing up in the U.S., it was not exactly a subject given much, if any, gravity. So, I knew about the Taj Mahal and about Shah Jahan and his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, but not much beyond that. Then, I heard about The Twentieth Wife (the first in the two-book series) from Amulya Malladi's website. Intrigued, I read the first chapter online and was instantly hooked.
Both books follow Mehrunnisa, or, as she is more popularly known, Nur Jahan, throughout her life, from the unique circumstances of her birth through to her reign over the empire.
This books starts after Mehrunnisa arrives into the imperial zenana as Emperor Jahangir's twentieth wife. We follow her as she establishes her power over the Emperor and over his kingdom. We see how, as a friend so eloquently put it, her strength becomes her weakness, and eventually, her downfall; a strong, aggressive, cunning woman whose actions changed the course of history becomes a mere line in history books.
The imagery in this book is absolutely delicious. The lives of the royals: the majesty, the opulence, the splendor - all of it is depicted in vivid detail, allowing the reader to see it all, to actually be there. Oh, and the romance:
"He moved closer to Mehrunnisa's back and went to sleep. Heat hung inside the apartment, the punkah did little but spin the air around the room, but Jahangir could only close his eyes when some part of him was against her. They would each wake many times at night to find sweat thickly matted between their skins, but half-asleep they would wipe it away, find another position in which to lay their bodies, another place in which they made contact. An arm, a leg flung across, a shoulder lodged against a hip, even fingers touching, it did not matter, touch they had to."
Overall, this book was a much slower read compared to The Twentieth Wife. I think there was just a lot more to take in in this one.
Never having been a fan of historical fiction, these two books definitely changed my perception. It was interesting to learn about the treachery, the friendships forged, alliances broken, the campaigns, the wars, the tireless work of a ruler controlling a vast land.
I hope Indu Sundaresan writes more and I'm off to learn as much as I can about Nur Jahan.
Note: Although the author claims to have followed history very closely, there is some leeway she has allowed herself in constructing the story. Being a work of fiction, this artistic license is to be expected....more