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Indu Sundaresan


Shadow Princess
Atria (2010)
In Shadow Princess, Indu Sundaresan picks up where she left off in The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses, returning to seventeenth-century India a few years after Mehrunnisa's death, as two royal princesses struggle for power.

The daughters of the emperor, Jahangir and Roshanara, conspire and scheme against one another in an attempt to gain power over their father's harem. As royal princesses, they are confined in the imperial harem and not allowed to marry. However, this does not stop them from having illicit affairs or plotting who will be the next heir to the throne.

These royal sisters are in competition for everything: control over the harem, their father's affection, and the future of their country. Unfortunately, only one of them can succeed. And despite their best efforts to affect the future, their schemes are eclipsed, both during their lives and in posterity, as they live in the shadow of the greatest monument in Indian history, the Taj Mahal.

Sawnet Review by Kalyani Deshpande

In the Convent of Little Flowers
Simon and Schuster (2008)
A young woman who was adopted by an American family in Seattle receives a letter from Sister Mary Theresa, nun at the Convent of Little Flowers in Chennai where she stayed as a child. Unbeknownst to her, the nun is her biological mother's sister. The grandmother of an Indian journalist begs him to intervene with her husband -- his grandfather -- to prevent a young widow from being burned alive. A child born out of wedlock to the sixteen-year-old daughter of a peon on an engineering college campus throws the entire family into turmoil.

Indu Sundaresan presents a candid and stunning collection of stories about contemporary Indians and the cutting-edge issues surrounding them -- where ancient tradition and modernity can often clash.

Sawnet Review by Kalyani Deshpande

The Splendor of Silence
Atria (2006)
Set in India during four searing pre-monsoon days in May 1942. Sam Hawthorne, a twenty-five-year-old U.S. Army captain, arrives at the princely state of Rudrakot in search of his missing brother, Mike, carrying with him wounds from combat in Burma and several secrets. But Sam's mission is soon threatened by the unlikeliest of sources -- he falls hopelessly in love with Mila, daughter of the local political agent. Mila, unexpectedly attracted to Sam, nurtures a secret of her own and finds herself torn between loyalty to her family and Sam.

The Splendor of Silence opens twenty-one years later with Olivia, Sam's daughter, receiving a trunk of treasures from India, along with a letter from an unknown narrator that finally fills all the silences of her childhood -- telling her the story of her parents' passionate and enduring love for each other that throws them in the path of racial prejudice, nationalist intrigue, and the explosive circumstances of a country and a society on the brink of independence from British rule.

Sawnet Review by Srividya Natarajan
The Silence of a Lifetime. Review in Indiacurrents.
Novel bridges cultures of Seattle, India. Review in the Seattle Times.

The Feast of Roses
Atria Books. (2003)
On the 11th of May, 1611, Emperor Jahangir marries a Persian refugee's daughter and brings her into his harem. Thus ends The Twentieth Wife (Pocket Books, February 2002). Jahangir's nineteen other marriages have all been contracted for political reasons. Mehrunnisa is the first and only woman he marries for love, at the 'old' age of thirty-four. And almost from the beginning, this daughter of an immigrant Persian fits none of the established norms of womanhood in 17th century India.

Mehrunnisa is known to us by the title Jahangir bestows upon her -- Empress Nur Jahan. Over the next seventeen years of Jahangir's life, in The Feast of Roses (Atria Books, May 2003) she becomes Emperor in all but name of the vast Mughal lands that encompass modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and a massive chunk of northern and central India.

Review in desijournal by Poornima Apte.

The Twentieth Wife
Pocket Books, . (2002)
The year is 1577. As winter dust storm rages in a desert on the fringes of the Indian Mughal Empire'in a nomadic encampment outside Qandahar'a baby girl named Mehrunnisa is born. Her parents, penniless and in exile from their home in Persia, decide to give up the child. They already have three children, and are on their way to the court of Emperor Akbar. Thirty-four years later, this child of the storm, comes to Emperor Jahangir's harem as his twentieth wife, and becomes Empress Nur Jahan.

Over the next seventeen years, Nur Jahan rules the empire in Jahangir's name. In a time when women were never seen and rarely heard, Nur Jahan shapes the destiny of the empire from behind a veil, signing on royal orders, owning ships that plied the Arabian sea routes, and commissioning many of the gardens and tombs that still stand in India today.

The Twentieth Wife is the story of Nur Jahan's life before she marries Jahangir. She sees him at his first marriage, when she is eight and Jahangir seventeen, and there decides that one day she will marry him. In the years before this becomes an actuality, she is married to someone else against her wishes, and her family falls into disgrace at the imperial court, her husband kills Jahangir's friend, her father is accused of embezzling from the royal treasury, her brother is put to death for attempting to assassinate Jahangir. Despite all these obstacles, Nur Jahan and Jahangir marry when she is an "old" thirty-four.

Although a work of fiction, The Twentieth Wife is rooted in historical fact and detail culled from accounts of seventeenth-century travelers to Emperor Jahangir's court and the memoirs of the Mughal kings. The sequel, titled Power Behind the Veil, continues the story of Nur Jahan's life as an empress until the year of her death.

Sawnet Review by Visi Tilak

South Asian Women authors
Sawnet Bookshelf