Sunday, August 14, 2011

Shadow Princess: A NovelShadow Princess: A Novel by Indu Sundaresan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I LOVED The Twentieth Wife, and I thought The Feast of Roses was good, but Shadow Princess was just slow. It skips a generation and picks up when Empress Mumtaz Mahal dies in childbirth, her husband, Emperor Shah Jahan, decides to build the Taj Mahal for her, and their eldest daughter, Jahanara becomes Shah Jahan's trusted confidant, essentially filling her mother's role.

And then not a whole lot happens. There's not really much discussion of the building of the Taj Mahal, there's a little bit of sibling squabbling, there are a few love affairs, but mostly, this book is about what the rich are eating or wearing, or how they travel throughout the empire, and, actually that's about it.

Until chapter 25, when the war of succession begins.

While I was reading this book, a lot of questions came to mind. For instance, how does the Emperor get all of these riches? What are all of his workers paid? What caused the downfall of India? And what happened to Goharara, the child born when Mumtaz Mahal dies?

I'll start with the fourth question first. Simply, we don't know. Around the age of two, her character makes a reappearance on an elephant as the imperial family is traveling around the empire, but after that, nothing. Maybe she died during her childhood. Maybe she lived a rather uneventful life. Maybe there was simply nothing else mentioned of her in Sundaresan's research.

Basically, and I'm really simplifying this here, but the downfall of India occurred for three reasons. One, and the common fall of empires, is that they simply spent all of the money that previous generations have (through time, the common denominator in the fall of any civilization is a lack of resources of some sort). Secondly, Aurangzeb, who assumed the throne after Shah Jahan, was less tolerant of other religions than both his father and grandfather, and thus he disgruntled a lot of people. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the British came in and took over, as they were wont to do around the world.

Now I'll discuss the first two questions I asked. I don't actually have answers, but I have some ideas. In Mogul India, the Emperor owns everything, and once you die, it reverts to him. Traditionally, he'll divide the holdings among the persons heirs (meaning sons), but not always. So the emperor also owns the gold mines and such. Then there are the taxes. I can't quite figure out this system because the emperor can grant cities to people, and then they collect the taxes, which is their income somehow. And finally, there's lots of exporting of spices.

The book doesn't cover what the masses do, but the imperial family lives extravagantly. My suspicion is that most of their wealth comes from owning everything, and not from taxes, because I doubt the common people are paid very well, and therefore couldn't likely pay a lot of taxes. My two hypotheses are that the value of money was very different then than it is today (I don't mean what the money equals in today's dollars, but more what you could do with it/get for it), or that the trickle-down-effect may actually have worked (although I seriously doubt it.)

Anyway, if you're interested in the time period, Beneath a Marble Sky is a much better read.

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