The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan
A Novel

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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.
Growing up on the fringes of Emperor Akbar's opulent palace grounds, Mehrunnisa blossoms into a sapphire-eyed child blessed with a precocious intelligence, luminous beauty, and a powerful ambition far surpassing the bounds of her family's station. Mehrunnisa first encounters young Prince Salim on his wedding day. In that instant, even as a royal gala swirls around her in celebration of the future emperor's first marriage, Mehrunnisa foresees the path of her own destiny. One day, she decides with uncompromising surety, she too will become Salim's wife. She is all of eight years old -- and wholly unaware of the great price she and her family will pay for this dream.
Skillfully blending the textures of historical reality with the rich and sensuous imaginings of a timeless fairy tale, The Twentieth Wife sweeps readers up in the emotional pageant of Salim and Mehrunnisa's embattled love. First-time novelist Indu Sundaresan charts her heroine's enthralling journey across the years, from an ill-fated first marriage through motherhood and into a dangerous maze of power struggles and political machinations. Through it all, Mehrunnisa and Salim long with fiery intensity for the true, redemptive love they've never known -- and their mutual quest ultimately takes them, and the vast empire that hangs in the balance, to places they never dreamed possible.
Shot through with wonder and suspense, The Twentieth Wife is at once a fascinating portrait of one woman's convention-defying life behind the veil and a transporting saga of the astonishing potency of love.

About Indu Sundaresan

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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.  Sundaresan’s love of stories comes from both of them, from hearing their stories based on imagination and rich Hindu mythology, and from her father's writings.After an undergraduate degree in economics from India, Sundaresan came to the U.S. for graduate school at the University of Delaware and has an MS in operations research and an MA in economics. But all too soon, the storytelling gene beckoned.The Twentieth Wife, Sundaresan’s first novel, won the 2003 Washington State Book Award.  Her second novel, The Feast of Roses, is a sequel to the first and continues the story of Mehrunnisa, Empress Nur Jahan’s life as the most powerful woman of the Mughal dynasty that ruled India.
Published March 7, 2002 by Atria Books. 416 pages
Genres: History, Action & Adventure, Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Crime, Professional & Technical, Romance. Fiction

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With three children, no money and no future, Ghias despairs of being able to rear her, but Mehrunnisa is rescued by Malik, a merchant, who not only befriends Ghias but finds a position for him at the imperial court in Lahore.

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Book Reporter

Read an Excerpt THE TWENTIETH WIFE, Indu Sundaresan's story of Mehrunnisa, the Persian refugee who became Empress of India during the Mughal Empire, is above all a tale of ambition.

Jan 24 2011 | Read Full Review of The Twentieth Wife: A Novel


The chronology of world history I keep in my office for convenient reference says of the events covered by this novel only that Prince Salim rebelled in 1601 against his father, Akbar, Emperor of the Mughal Empire.

Jul 08 2003 | Read Full Review of The Twentieth Wife: A Novel

The Best Reviews

Though too young and way beneath his station, Mehrunnisa, the daughter of a Persian courtier to the Mughal Empire, plans to one day wed the heir apparent to the throne Salim.

Feb 01 2002 | Read Full Review of The Twentieth Wife: A Novel


I have had the pleasure of reading Indu’s books and was sure that this would be an excellent read.

Mar 21 2011 | Read Full Review of The Twentieth Wife: A Novel


‘The Twentieth Wife’ is the first one from Indu Sundaresan’s Taj trilogy, though I read it after reading ‘The feast of roses’ which is the second one.

Apr 28 2011 | Read Full Review of The Twentieth Wife: A Novel

From Left to Write

From Left to Write.

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