"Lal shows that [Nur’s] reign had a lasting effect on female empowerment, enabling royal wives to issue an array of orders beyond the harem."
"An absorbing portrait of a remarkable woman, but also offers a stylish reconstruction of a fascinating slice of Mughal life."
"Intriguing, inspiring, and relevant to us today in twenty-first-century America."
"In filling in the details of Nur Jahan’s life, Ms. Lal has not only written a revisionist feminist biography; she has also provided a vivid picture of the Mughal court, with its luxuries, beauties, intrigues and horrors."
"Lal… paints rich multisensory tapestries… providing context and evidence to show that due to Nur’s surroundings, history, and contemporaries, she was probably a progressive, worldly, multitalented, forward-thinking woman warrior from the outset.… Lal releases Nur from the condescending ways in which previous commentators have trivialized, belittled, and diminished her accomplishments."
Los Angeles Review of Books - Gary Singh
"Ruby Lal, professor of South Asian studies at Emory University, challenges the well-worn fictions of Nur Jahan’s life and legacy.… A cross between Princess Diana, Mother Teresa and Annie Oakley, her Empress is scarcely human."
Wall Street Journal - Maxwell Carter
"Lal’s intriguing biography, with its chronology of her relatively swift rise to power and even swifter descent, restores Nur Jahan to her full splendour."
"Despite the spare record she has to work with, Lal paints richly detailed scenes from Nur’s life.… Lal ably guides the reader through the rich drama and intrigue of Nur’s later life with Jahangir, whom she married after Quli was killed.… Lal has done a service to readers interested in the Mughal period and the many forgotten or poorly remembered women of Indian history. She has helped shine a little light on an enigmatic character many think they know but few actually understand."
New York Times Book Review - Vikas Bajaj
Despite the spare record she has to work with, Lal paints richly detailed scenes from Nur's life…Lal has done a service to readers interested in the Mughal period and the many forgotten or poorly remembered women of Indian history. She has helped shine a little light on an enigmatic character many think they know but few actually understand.
The New York Times Book Review - Vikas Bajaj
In this feminist biography of a strong and independent Muslim woman who, over the intervening centuries, has been reduced to a caricature of wifely devotion in the popular imagination, Lal makes clear her subject’s relevance. Lal, a history professor at Emory, goes far beyond the fables to demonstrate that Nur Jahan was a force to be reckoned with: she ruled jointly as co-sovereign of the Mughal Empire with her husband, the emperor Jahangir, from their marriage in 1611 and was recognized by foreign and domestic observers as the true power in the realm. The women of the royal household, including Jahangir’s 19 other wives, spent most of their lives sequestered, but “the harem offered women surprising opportunities—wide horizons behind high walls.” Jahangir was an aesthete who concerned himself primarily with “the grand ritual acts of ideal Mughal kingship,” such as “offering his subjects glimpses of his semi-divine person from the imperial balcony.” Meanwhile, it was Nur Jahan who commissioned palaces and gardens, issued royal edicts and minted currency, and even defended the realm from usurpers, “sitting atop a war elephant and armed with a musket.” Closely researched and vividly written, this telling finds that the truth is as fantastic and fascinating as myth. (July)
"A luminous biography…It is a captivating account, its depth of detail recreating a world whose constraints of lineage would seem to preclude the advance of an unknown, self-made, widowed queen…Lal’s book is an act of feminist historiography."
"An enchanting evocation of the brilliant Mughal Empire and a tender tribute to India’s first female leader. Lush and sensuous, a jewel box of a book."
"There's much more to the story [of Nur Jahan], as historian Ruby Lal reveals in her fascinating new book "
Christian Science Monitor - Randy Dotinga
"This is an outstanding book, not only incredibly important but also a fabulous piece of writing. Here, India’s greatest empress is reborn in all her fascinating glory in a luminescent account of her life and times. Ruby Lal has written a classic—one of the best biographies to come out this year and certainly the best ever of Nur Jahan."
"What an extraordinary and detailed account of a remarkable woman—amazing! A very impressive, thorough, poetic, humane work."
Born to Persian nobility traveling to the Mughal empire, Nur Jahan (1577–1645) survived an uncertain birth and childhood to go on to hunt tigers, lead men in battle, and wield power and influence at a level almost unheard of for a Muslim woman of that time, reigning over India with her husband, the emperor Jahangir, from 1614 to 1627. Lal's (South Asian history, Emory Univ.; Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World) examination of Jahan's life attempts to look beyond slanted historical opinions, legends, and fiction to form a more balanced viewpoint of her life. And while that resulting portrait still contains gaps—little record remains, for example, of Jahan's early life, and none of exactly how she rose so quickly and so high from the ranks of Jahangir's other wives—the author makes use of the absences to explore the upbringing of girls and the responsibilities of royal wives in the Mughal empire in general. VERDICT More a narrative history than full biography, Lal's work nevertheless provides a vivid look at her subject and the world in which she lived. An excellent choice for popular history readers interested in women rulers.—Kathleen McCallister, Tulane Univ., New Orleans
Lal (South Asian History/Emory Univ.; Coming of Age in Nineteenth-Century India: The Girl-Child and the Art of Playfulness, 2013, etc.) shines a light on Nur Jahan (1577-1645), who ruled as co-sovereign in the Mughal court, taking her husband's place without actually usurping him.Before she ascended, her husband, Jahangir, had fallen victim to overindulgence in drink and opium, and she slowly assumed duties with his full support. Jahangir was mercurial, ill-tempered, but he loved the signs of royal power. His traveling procession consisted of hundreds of tents draped in velvet and brocade, an audience hall of more than 70 rooms with 1,000 carpets, a harem, and stables. He inherited none of his father's empire-building drive, but he was a patron of the arts, hunter, naturalist, mystic, and book lover. He loved statistics and traveled mainly to make measurements of flora and fauna and catalog the characteristics of his country. He saw his wife as highly intelligent, talented, and politically savvy, which was due in large part to an aristocratic upbringing in her Persian parents' household. Rather than serving as a quiet counselor and smoothing relations between the emperor and his sons, Nur took direct action. She was an accomplished adviser, hunter, diplomat, and aesthete. She designed her parents' tomb in Agra, anticipating the Taj Mahal, which was built by her stepson, Shah Jahan. Agra was also home to her designs for her and Jahangir's tombs and her famous Light Scattering Garden. The author's descriptions of Agra are superb, and her detailed explanations of Nur's upbringing reflect her long study, deep understanding, and modern take on a little-explored subject. When the emperor was kidnapped by his son's ally, it was Nur who led an army to attempt his rescue. She must be held as one of history's great independent, powerful women.A page-turning, eye-opening biography that shatters our impressions of India as established by the British Raj.