The Twentieth Wife : The Taj Mahal Trilogy

  • by Indu Sundaresan
  • Narrated by Sneha Mathan
  • Series: The Taj Mahal Trilogy
  • 14 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

An enchanting historical epic of grand passion and adventure, this debut novel tells the captivating story of one of India's most controversial empresses, a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal Empire.Skillfully blending the textures of historical reality with the rich and sensual imaginings of a timeless fairy tale, The Twentieth Wife sweeps listeners up in Mehrunnisa's embattled love with Prince Salim - and in the bedazzling destiny of a woman, a legend in her own time, who was all but lost to history until now.


What the Critics Say

"Sundaresan writes in the great tradition of the Indian epic, an art she carries forward with grace and brilliance....This is a remarkably readable book despite the historical basis, with which many readers will not be familiar." (Library Journal)
"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....[She] charts the chronology of the Mughal Empire, describing life in the royal court in convincing detail and employing authentic period terms throughout." (Publishers Weekly)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful


The Twentieth Wife is a tough nut to crack. You *want* to like it; it's painstakingly researched and brings the court intrigues of Mughul India to life. However, the book has a few really critical flaws:

1. It often skips the key events, describing them between-chapter narration, choosing instead to flesh out the areas between key events.

2. It's characters change sometimes without a sense of why. You get the sense that the author saw, in the History, a change in character, and then made the character changed in the novel without a good sense of motivation. A simple non-spoiler example (although by no means the most jarring) is Mehrunnisa suddenly becoming an expert craftswoman.

3. The pacing is very uneven -- threads are suddenly picked up and then dropped as promptly. It seems, again, as though the author were paying close attention to historical accounts and including things simply because they're recorded in the history. The sudden inclusion of the English & Portuguese at the end of the book is very jarring.

4. The story relies on the love between two characters, but that love doesn't feel believable. There is a sense that there is a more subtle story about power, status and money hiding in the facts which the author tries to skirt around in favor of some fairytale concept of love. However, the facts don't seem to fit the emotions the characters are meant to have. I wasn't convinced by being told, again and again, how much the motivation was love. It felt hollow somehow.

It was an enjoyable enough listen -- it got me through re-painting my apartment, but i was never lost in the story. The story and setting are quite interesting, the narration is very good, but the execution of the book is flat and somehow lifeless. I do not regret listening, but I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend it either.

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- Neil

Fiction that brings history to life

First, this is a five star narration. Sneha Mathan was truly brilliant in giving voice to the characters. What a lyrical, rich, thoughtful and seasoned voice.

I felt the story was stronger in the second half than the first. Because the story adhered so closely to actual events and personages, I felt I was learning history while listening to Sundaresan's characters were embodied in Mathan's voice. This was historical fiction at its richest, I think, where the author fills in motives, feelings, dialog and thoughts about real events and people. The preface to each chapter is an excerpt from a historical piece and is a nice touch. You might find yourself, like me, looking up different references.

I agree with another reviewer that the concept of romantic love in the story probably was more prominent in the novel than in actual history. On the other hand, to avoid giving away a spoiler, I will say that there is plenty of evidence and reason to believe that the marriage alluded to in the title was different than those that usually took place. Story was really good, narration was even better.
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- Eric

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-06-2006
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.