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The Twentieth Wife

(Taj Mahal Trilogy #1)

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  12,262 ratings  ·  1,370 reviews
An enchanting seventeenth-century epic of grand passion and adventure, this debut novel tells the captivating story of one of India's most legendary and controversial empresses -- a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles, and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal empire.

She came into the world in the year 1577, to the howling accompaniment o
Paperback, 380 pages
Published February 18th 2003 by Washington Square Press (first published January 29th 2002)
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NabilaSyifaS The story of Anarkali was originally written by Indian writer Abdul Halim Shahar, and on the first page of the book he had clearly mentioned it to be…moreThe story of Anarkali was originally written by Indian writer Abdul Halim Shahar, and on the first page of the book he had clearly mentioned it to be a work of fiction. But the love story of Jahangir and Nur Jahan (Mehrunissa) is true. Hope it helps!
Source: Wikipedia and some Indian History Books(less)
Azimah Othman Prince Salim and Emperor Jahangir were the same person. It was normal for an Emperor or Sultan to take on another name upon coronation.

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4.04  · 
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Ronak Gajjar
Apr 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: cover-lust, 2018, series
Of course, reading this felt quite homely because of the chosen premises of the historical background.
Concept: 4.0/5.0
Execution: 2.75/5.0
Characters Bespoken: 3.25 /5.0
World Building: 3.0 /5.0
Cover: 3.25/5.0
Writing Style: 3.0/5.0
Overall: 3.25/5.0
The Mughal Era always had been captivating for me historically and architecturally.
Remember the sets of Jodha Akbar? Yes! They were indeed gorgeous and still the every edifice standing until date from Mughal Era bewitches the viewer with its own charms
Yosita Oramahi
Jul 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I finished reading this book quite some time ago back in 2004 and it left quite a deep impact on me and the way I see things. The genre is still historical fiction, one of my favourites, written by a very talented Indian author, Indu Sundaresan. The story takes us to 15th century Mughal India, about the journey of a remarkable woman that would later in her life play a great role in the ruling of one of India’s greatest emperor, Jahangir, formerly known as Prince Salim. Like most Indian authors, ...more
Aug 27, 2009 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: fans of Philippa Gregory-style historical romance who don't need great character development
If you like Philippa Gregory and her genre of Harlequin romance-cum-historical fiction, there’s a good possibility you’ll like this book. Personally, I just couldn’t get into it. I read the first 50 pages, skimmed the next 240 just for the sake of writing a better-informed review, and couldn’t make myself plod through the last 90. That should tell you something.

The setting, late 1500s India, was definitely original and interesting but wasn’t enough to carry the story for me, especially when it b
Ashish Iyer
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ashish by: Sucharita Paul
This is Indu Sundaresan's first novel, and I have to say, damn good for a first! The story is based on real people and events, and is enhanced by Sundaresan's romantic imagination. The descriptions bring you to India in 1600. The writing is smart, fun and captivating.

The story is about Mehrunissa, the daughter of refugees, who's family climbs the social ladder. At age 8, she finds herself mesmerized by Salim, the future heir to the throne. She immediately thinks he is beautiful and later develop
I have listened to the entire audiobook. I deserve four stars for doing this, but I award the book only two.

I think it proper to award two stars rather than one simply because I did learn about the Mughal Empire – historical facts, customs and way of life.


I have listened to about 1/6 of the audio version. It is just totally terrible!
Mehunrissa, the girl that will eventually become the twentieth wife of Jahangir, the fourth Mughal Emperor, is infatuated from the ag
May 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Hypnotic. Intoxicating. Bright & Brilliant. Engrossing.

What can I say about The Twentieth Wife ? I think I may not have enough adjectives in my vocabulary to sing its praises. I loved this book. To the very end I was engrossed and intertwined in this tale of royal romance, tradition, history and struggle for control of the throne in the 1500’s Mogul empire.

I’ve passed this book numerous times. I don’t know why it took me so long to pick it up but if I had known that I would be wonderfull
Dec 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of Memoirs of A Geisha
The first thing that I thought once I put this book down was that it would be great to recommend to people who read "Memoirs of A Geisha" (I work in a bookstore). It has all the same basic elements: girl overcoming difficult childhood, unrequited love, obstacle after obstacle, etc. The setting for this novel is India and while it is similar to "Memoirs" the book is not merely a duplication in a different country. If you do read this book and enjoy it there is also a follow-up book: Feast of Rose ...more
May 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I don't like the romance between Mehrunnisa (a.k.a Empress Nur Jahan) and the Emperor much, but the rest of the book: the struggle of a young girl finding a place for herself and her family in a male-centered ancient Indian society, the power struggle within the harem, the politic at the royal court, the description of the Mughal Empire, is pretty intriguing.

Seriously speaking, I can understand somehow Prince Salim(later Emperor Jahangir) developed a strong crush on the young and charming Mehru
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
It was brilliant....Took me to the world of Nur Jahan and Jahangir...Mehrunissa what a lovely name...The narration was good and so were the characters. I am intrigued by Nur Jahan and want to read on her life .. Maybe I will read it non fiction on her next...there are so many...The other female characters are also unique and strong minded like Ruqqayya Sulthan Akbar's wife and Jagat Ghosni Jahangirs other wife... Want to read up on all of them but first Nur Jahan...Not sure whether I'll read the ...more
Nov 01, 2011 rated it did not like it
It took over a week for me to figure out why I was having such a tough time with The Twentieth Wife, a story of a pair of star-crossed lovers in imperial Mughal India in the 16th century. The protagonist Mehrunnisa is everything a feminist would want: intelligent, head-strong, gorgeous, and independent. However, I'm half-way through the book and it seems to me that the author has marginalized her just as much as the culture she lives in does. Her only act of bravery has been to smile through her ...more
Sangeetha Ramachandran
This is what I like about historical fiction, the power they possess to take us with them. This story is about the twentieth and the most beloved wife of Jahangir.
When I started this book I had no idea about Mughal empire other than few details I read in history classes and what I inferred from movie Jodha Akbar. A well researched work which talks not only about the great Empress but also of the landscapes, politics and culture.

This will be one of the books where I didn't care much about the sto
Shayantani Das
Jan 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is lush in its description of mughal landscapes; from the colourful court life, to the intrigue ridden harems, the attires and festivities, the wars and betrayals, everything is painted in deft strokes and brought to life quite beautifully by Indu Sundaresan. Something remains to be desired from the character building, especially that of Jahangir but the plot kept me hooked through this excruciatingly long journey of courtship. So 4 stars.
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that truly takes you away. You can almost smell the flowers in the Indian gardens...that's how good it is. Please trust me and read it. You will find it hard to put down.
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-harder-2019
Heavy on historical, lightish on romance, but a very humanizing account of some of the world’s most fascinating historical figures.

A breath of fresh, incense-laden air in a very white genre. Want to read the second book, but my TBR pile is obscene.
Glad I could use the Read Harder Challenge as my excuse to finally pick this up though.
Nov 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is the story of Empress Noor Jahan's life and how despite so many circumstances/events etc, her impossible marriage with Jahangir happened. The author's style greatly reminded me of Jeffrey Archer's 'Kane and Abel' and its siblings. The pace is good and even, the events are believable and also informative, the flow is smooth and for lovers of history this book is a joy.
Interestingly, this book came to my notice solely because of 'Siyaasat' a television series on 'Epic Channel' based on the
Jul 18, 2018 rated it liked it
This book talks about "Mehrunissa" or "Nur Jahan", the most important woman of the Mugal empire. She was a widow when she married Jahangir, and was over 35. This was the only marriage in Jahangir's life where no political motives were involved. Jahangir finds a trusted confidant and partner in Mehrunissa. She was a strong, self-confident, charismatic and well-educated woman(Had she had been ugly, all these qualities wouldn't have mattered! Women can't find place in literary works if they don't l ...more
Great summer read with all the pomp and circumstance you'd expect for a novel about the royal court of 15th century Moghul Empire (which included what today is Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and most of India)

Mehrunnisa aka Empress Nur Jahan was one of the most powerful empresses of the Moghul Empire only her story is just now coming to light based on a pulling together of anecdotal mentions in books on the country and famous men at that time.

This is the first of two books on her life. This first,

So I knew absolutely nothing about Mehrunnisa before reading this book. I didn’t even know that her niece was the woman the Taj Mahal was built for.
Thanks to this book, I know want to know more about Mehrunnisa.
If one is looking at this book objectively, there isn’t much action – in many ways it is a slow burn romance with the heroine marrying the wrong man. I would have almost liked more intrigue in the harem. Yet, all the characters are well drawn and the conflicting forces of duty vs. fam
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indian-authors
4.5 Stars!!!!

After Pachinko, my search for another interesting and immersive historical fiction read brought me here.

This is the first book in the Taj Mahal Trilogy and spans the Akbar-Jahangir era, with Mehrunissa (later Nur Jahan) as the central character. Though largely fictional, the story bases itself on actual events that tie up the plot really well, and the author does a great job of making it an interesting and compelling read. I had no idea about Nur Jahan's backstory, so for me it was
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Took me awhile to get into this book but now ready for the 2nd in the trilogy. Enjoyed candid ‘conversation’ with the author and insight concerning historical research versus re-creating India 400 years ago.
Jan 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
The Twentieth Wife is a fictional account of the life of the Empress Nur Jahan, born Mehrunnissa, before she married the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and became his favorite wife and advisor. It was December's Vaginal Fantasy pick and I was rather unimpressed by it. I started this one about a month ago and have been slowly working my way through it, forcing myself to read at least a paragraph occasionally, before finally deciding to give up the ghost today. I read the last couple of pages and counted ...more
Aug 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Empress Nur Jahan was the twentieth and favorite wife of Mogul Emperor Jahangir. Born into an aristocratic Persian family who had immigrated to India, her birth name was Mehrunnisa. She was a remarkable beauty, with blue eyes and pale skin, who fell in love with Jahangir as a young girl serving Empress Ruqayya Sultan Begam (chief wife of Jahangir’s father, Emperor Akbar) in the Imperial harem. Then a prince, Jahangir was likewise enamored with her, but at seventeen she was married off to a soldi ...more
Marcy prager
Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010-read
I first read this book when it came out in 2003. The copy in the library was nice and fresh and just waiting to be cracked open. I fell in love from the first page. Over the years, I still had beautiful images from the book playing in my head. When asked to recommend a book this was usually my top pick. It is now 7 years later and thanks in part to a historical fiction challenge I decided to re-read this book. The same copy from 2003 has now passed many hands. I can tell the book has been loved ...more
Feb 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is based in historical fact although some of the story is the author's fictional account of the characters and their lives. It is ultimately a love story of "soul mates" but also gives the reader a peek at life in the Mughal Empire and the harem of its emperor. I enjoyed this book for it's fairy-tale-like love story and the history behind it. The writer weaves the two effortlessly into one beautiful book.
Cyndy Aleo
May 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Every so often, you'll find a gem in the bargain books section of a bookstore. So it was with The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan, a novel based on actual events in the history of the Mughal Empire of India.

::: The Plot :::

Ghias Beg flees from Persia after his father's estates revert to the government, and he cannot pay his debts. During his journey from Persia, his wife gives birth to a daughter, Mehrunissa (meaning Sun of Women), but there is no way they can afford to care for her as well as
May 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
In The Twentieth Wife, Indu Sundaressen introduces her readers to the opulent court of 16th century India. Mehrunissa, the daughter of a Persian refugee comes to live at the court when she is eight years old. There she encounters the zenana, the royal harem, full of concubines, wives, and female servants of the Emporer. Her first glimpse of the royal palace and the ladies who live there spark in her the ambition to one day rule the zenana as chief wife. In a world where women were always veiled ...more
Ashley Arthur
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: india
I found out about this book by looking through lists of "read-alikes" for The Far Pavilions. It wasn't terribly easy to find a copy, but I eventually bought a used one off Amazon. Although it took me a few weeks to read, I really enjoyed the story.

This is the first installment in Sundaresen's trilogy about the construction of the Taj Majal. That probably makes it sound supremely boring, but it wasn't! It's the story of how Emperor Jahangir of India met and fell in love with Mehrunnisa, daughter
Dec 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
The Twentieth Wife a historical novel set in India under the Mughal Empire in the 17th century. It chronicles the love between Mehrunnisa and Prince Salim. The author has stated that she based the story in factual information and took artistic license to fill in gaps where information was not available. This book had a list of main characters at the front, which was very helpful. I wish that it had listed all of the characters though – so many of them had similar names that it could get confusin ...more
Jan 04, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: indian-writers
Hands down, one of the most annoying pieces of writing I've read. I really wanted to get swept up in the story, but the writer was too busy with all the details except the character development. Could Maherunnisa and Jahangir be so love sick all the time? I hope not. After all, they weren't teenagers throughout the entire book. There were also some other cultural inaccuracies that I just couldn't get past. I find it really hard to believe Jahangir courted her the way Sundaresan described. It jus ...more
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Vaginal Fantasy B...: Main Discussion: Twentieth Wife *SPOILERS* 39 302 Jan 04, 2017 06:51PM  
Vaginal Fantasy B...: * Questions for our 1/4/17 HANGOUT! 7 286 Jan 04, 2017 05:11PM  
Historical FIction - Mughal Era 1 14 Jun 03, 2015 12:19PM  
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Indu Sundaresan was born in India and grew up on Air Force bases all over the country. Her father, a fighter pilot, was also a storyteller—managing to keep his audiences captive and rapt with his flair for drama and timing. He got this from his father, Indu's grandfather, whose visits were always eagerly awaited. Indu's love of stories comes from both of them, from hearing their stories based on i ...more

Other books in the series

Taj Mahal Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Feast of Roses (Taj Mahal Trilogy, #2)
  • Shadow Princess (Taj Mahal Trilogy, #3)
“No, no, don’t touch your mother just before the baby is born. Now it will be a girl child, because you are one. Run along now. Take your evil eye with you.”

“Ghias, we must be careful not to teach the girls too much. How will they ever find husbands if they are too learned? The less they know, the less they will want of the outside world.”
“This great Mughal Emperor [Akbar] was illiterate; he could neither read nor write. However, that had not stopped Akbar from cultivating the acquaintance of the most learned and cultured poets, authors, musicians, and architects of the time - relying solely on his remarkable memory during conversations with them.” 8 likes
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