The Feast of Roses

Written by Indu Sundaresan
Review by Adelaida Lower

“What is her attraction?” the courtiers wonder. Why has Emperor Jahangir married Mehrunnisa, the daughter of a treasurer? Granted, she is beautiful, but when she marries the emperor she is already thirty-four years old and a widow with a daughter. The courtiers can’t figure it out; the emperor has other wives and many young and beautiful concubines. Marrying Mehrunnisa is like “marrying a mother or an aunt.”

The Feast of Roses, Indu Sundaresan’s second novel, ends the story of Mehrunnisa, which the author started in The Twentieth Wife, her debut as a historical novelist. Sundaresan brings us the dazzling Mughal court of the seventeenth century, a world of diamond-studded clothes, cushions buttoned with rubies, and elephants with pedigrees. Peppering the pages with Mughal terms and a rich evocative language, Sundaresan introduces historical characters with a steady hand, illuminating a society and a time in which she is at home. The novel has a couple of minor stumbles a careful editor should have caught. It is entertaining and also bewildering. She paints a convincing portrait of a powerful and determined queen who wishes to live “the life of a man.” But when Mehrunnisa finally gets the coveted royal seal with which one can move mountains and devastate cities, all she can think of doing is marrying her daughter well, an enterprise too conventional for such an ambitious lady.