Writer. Encore Playhouse, Seattle, WA, writer and set builder.
Washington State Book Award, 2003, for The Twentieth Wife.
The Twentieth Wife, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Feast of Roses, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Vincent Brothers Review.
Indu Sundaresan was born in India and grew up on air force bases across the country, and as a child inherited a love of storytelling from her fighter-pilot father and her grandfather. After earning her undergraduate degree in India, she came to the United States to conduct graduate work in economics at the University of Delaware. She met her husband-to-be, and the couple eventually moved to Seattle, where Sundaresan made the decision to forego a career in economics in order to write.
Lucinda Dyer noted in Publishers Weekly that "to transport herself back to steamy seventeenth-century India in the midst of cold, rainy Washington winters, Sundaresan would crank up the thermostat in her home and settle in to write in shorts and a T-shirt—'but then the phone would ring and I would be back in Seattle.'" Sundaresan's debut novel, The Twentieth Wife, is based on the true story of Mehrunnisa (the historical Empress Nur Jahan), called the Sun of Women. A Publishers Weekly contributor described the book as "a sweeping, carefully researched tale of desire, sexual mores, and political treachery." Born in a tent in 1577, the baby daughter of refugees fleeing persecution in Persia, Mehrunnisa comes to live in the palace of Mughal Emperor Akbar following her father's introduction to court. She first meets Prince Salim, who will later become Emperor Jahangir, on the day of the young heir's first marriage, when she is eight years old. At that moment, the beautiful young girl whose ambition far exceeds her station in life decides that one day she too will be Salim's wife. Harriet Klausner noted in a review for BookBrowser online that Sundaresan's descriptions of life in the Mughal court are "very illuminating.… However, the wealth of information …overwhelms the characters and thus undercuts the prime tale of Mehrunnisa's efforts to become the empress."
Salim later shares Mehrunnisa's passion, but they are forced to go their separate ways. She marries Ali Quli, a cruel soldier, and suffers several miscarriages and the hate of the emperor's primary wife, Jagat Gosini. Twenty-six years after Mehrunnisa first saw the emperor, she becomes his twentieth wife, and although she never has any children to carry on the line, she grows into one of the most powerful women of her time in the dynasty that built the Taj Mahal. She issues coins, gives orders, owns and trades property, and supports the arts. The book ends as Mehrunnisa reaches power. Elsa Gaztambide noted in Booklist that in the book Sundaresan explains the dynamics of the harem and provides a glossary of Indian words used throughout the text. "More than just a love story," wrote Gaztambide, "this novel offers a kaleidoscope of India's history and culture." Library Journal's Michelle Reale wrote that Sundaresan "writes in the great tradition of the Indian epic, an art she carries forward with grace and brilliance." Sundaresan completed the epic in the sequel The Feast of Roses, published in 2003.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2002, Elsa Gaztambide, review of The Twentieth Wife, p. 14; May 15, 2003, Elsa Gaztambide, review of The Feast of Roses, p. 1640.
Library Journal, January, 2002, Michelle Reale, review of The Twentieth Wife, p. 155; June 15, 2003, Jeanine K. Raghunathan, review of The Feast of Roses, p. 102.
Publishers Weekly, August 6, 2001, Lucinda Dyer, review of The Twentieth Wife, p. 46; December 10, 2001, review of The Twentieth Wife, p. 49; May 19, 2003, review of The Feast of Roses, p. 53.
BookBrowser,http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (January 9, 2002), Harriet Klausner, review of The Twentieth Wife.
Indu Sundaresan Web site,http://www.indusundaresan.com (October 20, 2003).*