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Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan

Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan

Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan

In Empress, Ruby Lal tells a story that many have tried to erase from history. Her lyric writing at times also paints a stunning opulence of a royal ruling class that out does what can be found in a lot of fiction.

By piecing together fragments from different sources, Lal traces the history of Nur Jahan, an immigrant from Persia who becomes an empress of India. Throughout the task of telling the story, Lal wisely includes alternate versions by famed historical writers of the past. Some of these included accounts are by writers who did not believe in a female ruler, and others are by poets who felt her rule of India was destined. In this way she successfully shows how the epic story of Nur Jahan is both controversial and legendary. In between this story of political struggles and family infighting, is beautiful imagery that blends the rich culture of the time with the savage attempts for power.
The most iconic image that sticks out for me is the ‘Camp of Good Fortune’, essentially a moving elaborate city where the Empress Jahangir and Emperor Nur Jahan lived. It housed approximately 300,000 people, all with numerous job titles and positions, and even included livestock, horses and elephants. It is described with enough detail to bring this fairy tale idea into reality.

There is also a chapter that speaks specifically to the art history in India. It shows how Nur Jahan inspired an artistic and cultural shift because the old styles were not able to reflect her impression honestly.
For our convenience, Ruby Lal also includes a biographies at the end of the book of the many people who are part of this story.
It is a book and story that deserves multiple readings to fully capture this stunning period. If you are already a student of history, this 17th century Indian epic is one you want to know about, and Ruby Lal does a tremendous job in telling it.

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