Book Review: The Mulberry Courtesan by Sikeena Karmali

Book Name: The Mulberry Courtesan

Author: Sikeena Karmali

Publisher: Aleph

Rating: 4.7/5

Book Blurb: In 1857, the shadows are falling thick and fast on what is left of the Mughal empire. The last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, is a broken, bitter man in his eighties who has retreated into religion and poetry. Zafar’s empire extends no further than the precincts of his grand palace, the Red Fort in Delhi, but this hasn’t prevented numerous court intrigues and conspiracies from flourishing within the Lal Qila; these involve the emperor’s wives, children, courtiers, hangers-on and English functionaries among others. Flung into this poison pit is Laale, a young woman from an Afghan noble family, abducted from her home in the mountains and sold into the Mughal emperor’s court as a courtesan. Fiery, independent and beautiful, the ‘mulberry courtesan’ captures the ageing emperor’s heart, giving him hope and happiness in his last years. Told against the backdrop of India’s great revolt of 1857 and the last days of the Mughal empire, The Mulberry Courtesan is an epic tale of romance, tragedy, courage and adventure.

Review: Sikeena Karmali’s Mulberry Courtesan captures the grandeur of the Mughal period and brings to limelight a subject which has not been discussed upon in detail. While the emperors and queens have always hogged the limelight, the harem has rarely been written about.

The tale is about Laale, a woman who finds herself amidst the intrigues of the court of Hindustan. The book is very well researched and captures the Mughal period beautifully.

Sikeena’s prose is sprinkled with urdu and works like a charm. The book almost feels like a film and you get transported to the era and I could not find anything amiss.

The vivid descriptions and sublime narration works wonderfully well for this book. Even though the book is set in multiple nations and time travels through different cultures, the transition is smooth and the author has deeply researched about the subject capturing the mannerisms and intrigues of the political movement prevailing at that time.

The women of the harem have been a footnote in the history books even though some played a significant role in shaping the emperor’s policies too. This book sort of gives them their due.

Will Laale be able to shed off her difficult past and find some foothold for herself? Read this book to learn about the fascinating period.

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