book review: i just finished the twentieth wife by indu sunderesan, a local writer from bellevue. my sister-in-law met the author at a house party and recommended the book to my wife. what a page turner. i had a really tough time putting it down. one of the reasons i love historic novels is i get an in depth flavor for how life was in a different era - much more so than in a film. in this case, it was particularly interesting getting another view on the moghuls, a band of brutes not depicted so well by most sources, certainly not by the sikh sources of my youth.
sunderesan has a nice descriptive style that's not too simplistic, nor too over the top. my wife read this book for her book club, but due to the cover (i often violate the cardinal rule to not judge a book by its cover) - i dismissed it as chic lit. well it is chic lit, but sometimes i suppose that's ok.
here's a snippet of a high level summary of the book courtesy of diesel-ebooks.com:
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 of a ferocious winter storm. As the daughter of starving refugees fleeing violent persecution in Persia, her fateful birth in a roadside tent sparked a miraculous reversal of family fortune, culminating in her father's introduction to the court of Emperor Akbar. She is called Mehrunnisa, the Sun of Women. This is her story.
on a more literary and critical note, i'd say sunderesan, while capitivating, fails to write with much literary force. she fails to critically assess, and expose, the emporers in their utter brutality. she mentions a few things here and there, but these scenes could have been explored in more depth. my guess is she's walking a fine line - tough to empathize too much w/ this woman that is so in love w/ a guy that romances w/ 300+ wives - not to mention is a wake-n-bake opium snorting son eye-poking loser by any modern sense. also, the ali qul character, mehrunnisa's husband, is displayed as a simplistic brute - would have been nice to get much more background and depth, especially given that he performs significant acts.
anyway, while its no literary masterpiece, it's certainly a step up from the divince code w/ all the grip. also, if all i read were literary masterpieces, i'd probably sleep more than 8 hours a day. i give this book 3 stars overall out of 4.