The Twentieth Wife
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"There's no question that Sundaresan is a gifted storyteller with an obvious passion for history."

—USA Today

"Good old-fashioned historical fiction…The Twentieth Wife satisfies every craving for the pomp and mystery of India’s past."

—Chicago Tribune

"In her debut novel, Indu Sundaresan takes readers deep inside a 17th-century imperial Mughal court to tell the story of Mehrunissa, a woman who emerged from her husband's harem to rule as the Empress Nur Jahan. Vivid with period detail and palace politics, The Twentieth Wife is a richly imagined portrait of extraordinary power and independence."


"The Twentieth Wife is a profoundly imaginative exploration of what life must have been like behind harem walls."

—Outlook India

"Indu Sundaresan [is] a bright addition to the new generation of women writers from India."

—The Seattle Times

"Indu Sundaresan…proves that even first novels can read like the accomplishments of a seasoned writer. Her tale of the fabled empress of the Mughal dynasty progresses with grace and insight…It is a tale of India, universal in its appeal, a tale of vast reaches of glory and small moments of both joy and pain. It is jasmine and smoke, palaces and desolation. It is life as lived by the legendary."

—The Statesman Journal

"With refugees fleeing Kandahar, rebellious warlords shifting alliances and Islamic law invoked to justify cruelty and compassion, the world of "The Twentieth Wife" is unexpectedly familiar...But...Seattle author Indu Sundaresan takes the reader to some unfamiliar locales as well: behind the carved ivory screens of the royal zenana and under the muslin veils of its occupants, into the hearts and minds of once and future empresses--and the men whose destiny they largely control...evocative sensory detail and the narrative pulse of legend."

—San Francisco Chronicle

"In The Twentieth Wife, Indu Sundaresan has...chosen [characters who] are familiar but never have they been quite so human, fallible and fascinating...Sundaresan attempts to bring our history to us in a highly palatable form...The vignettes of court life, the endless feuds, the revolts, the politics of the zenana, and the pastimes of the kings, their queens, concubines and courtiers are opulently displayed in her pages...Sundaresan presents a variety of characters that are legendary, yet human and believable and who dominate the colourful canvas of the times that she has chosen to represent...Sundaresan's debut novel is well researched and presented and the reader waits for her presentation of court life in her promised sequel to this novel..."

—The Sunday Tribune (India)

"If all history lessons were spun outward from a legendary love affair and enlivened with sensuous details of an exotic time and place, fewer kids would sleep through class. Though "The Twentieth Wife" ends just as Mehrunnisa's childhood dream of becoming empress is fulfilled, Sundaresan, skilled at leaving her readers eager for more, has a sequel on the way--"Power Behind the Veil" (renamed The Feast of Roses) chronicles the next 15 years that Empress Nur Jahan ruled the Mughal Empire in her husband's name."

—The Sunday Oregonian

"Indu is a self-made author and a disciplined researcher, with the ability to construct a graceful narrative that at once is grand in its sweep and yet rich in the sensory detail of each specific moment."

—First City, Delhi's City Magazine

"Sundaresan is an evocative writer, and the historical pictures she draws are indeed compelling...Having a historical perspective goes a long way toward understanding...the story of Mehrunnisa, who went on to be the most influential woman of her era...lends a ray of hope to the future of...women everywhere."

—Las Vegas SUN

"Indu Sundaresan’s novel ‘The Twentieth Wife’ has adeptly spliced romance with political intrigue, giving the reader a broad insight into the political climate of the Mughal period."

—The Hindu, Chennai, India

"Sundaresan's debut is a sweeping, carefully researched tale of desire, sexual mores and political treachery set against the backdrop of 16th and 17th-century India...Sundaresan charts the chronology of the Mughal Empire, describing life in the royal court in convincing detail and employing authentic period terms throughout."

—Publishers Weekly

"First-time novelist Sundaresan writes in the great tradition of the Indian epic, an art she carries forward with grace and brilliance...Her debut is a fictional saga based on Mehrunnisa, the daughter of a Persian refugee who became the 20th and most dearly beloved wife of the emperor of 17th-century Mughal India...The dream of a small and seemingly insignificant child takes on larger-than-life meaning for a woman who lives boldly and courageously, though not without the dire consequences attached to all who lead unconventional lifestyle...This is a remarkably readable book...Highly recommended for public and academic libraries, particularly those wishing to expand their South Asian collections."

—Library Journal

"Indu Sundaresan molds [Mehrunnisa and Jahangir’s] courtship into a very plausible account of passion, betrayal, and political intrigue in her first work of fiction. More than just a love story, this novel offers a kaleidoscope of India’s history and culture, including the battles that shaped its development and the customs that have made it a unique society…Sundaresan conducts a symphony of textures."


"Sundaresan...develops the zenana as a branch of government with its own struggles for prestige and position, but at the same time, a platform of power that even emperors must respect and fear...her stories give us a clear view of what is, for most of us, an obscure society that was once the world's most advanced civilization."


"Written as an epic romance against the backdrop of palace intrigues and power struggles, this is the story of one woman’s rise from behind the veil…who went on to shape the course of the empire. [Sundaresan] succeeds…in (paring) the narrative down to the bare bones…leaves you at a ‘moment of high drama’ at the end of every scene…"

—The Economic Times, Chennai, India

"[The Twentieth Wife is] a meticulously researched and far-reaching work of historical fiction...This novel's strength lies in its research and incredible plot..."

—The Asian Reporter

"Historical fiction readers that relish a deep look at seventeenth century India will gain much pleasure from this descriptive tale...a very illuminating portrayal of Mughal court life."


"[The Twentieth Wife] skillfully blends history and fantasy to give us a glimpse of what life must have been like in those times…The novel works from a literary point of view…we still feel compelled to read on with eagerness and curiosity."

—The Statesman, New Delhi, India

"Lustily detailed life in another time--the Mughal Empire of early-17th century India...Drawing on historical records, Sundaresan, an Indian-born writer living in the U.S., gives her own interpretation of the fabled woman who, once she married the Emperor Jahangir, becoming his 20th and last wife, ruled the empire in his name for 15 years."

—Kirkus Reviews

"The Twentieth Wife  is fascinating reading by a first-class new writer. I highly recommend both the book and the author, whose next book, Power Behind the Veil (renamed The Feast of Roses) will be out soon. Get both when you can; I know this one is fantastic, and I'm willing to wager the follow-up will equal it."


"If you have ever wondered about the powers exercised by the veiled figures in the zenana, or about the great Moghul Emperors of India, then read this book. It's an intriguing historical tale of dynastic politics, rivalry and a lifelong romance..."


"Indu Sundaresan has written a fascinating novel about a fascinating time, and has brought it alive with characters that are at once human and legendary, that move with grace and panache across the brilliant stage she has reconstructed for them."

—Chitra Divakaruni
Author of Mistress of Spices and Unknown Errors of Our Lives

"This epic tale of the seventeenth-century Moghul empress Nur Jahan before her marriage is informative, convincing and madly entertaining. The reader comes away with an unexpected vision of the power behind the veil."

—Marilyn Yalom
Author of A History of the Wife and A History of the Breast

quot;...graceful fictional debut, a finely woven tapestry laced with epic adventure and intrigue, calls forth a turbulent period..."

—Cannon Beach Gazette

© Indu Sundaresan
Contact Indu: indu (at) indusundaresan (dot) com