White Mughals

Synopsis

Set in and around Hyderabad at the beginning of the nineteenth century, White Mughals tells the story of the improbably romantic love affair and marriage between James Achilles Kirkpatrick, a rising star in the East India Company, and Khair-un-Nisa, a Hyderabadi princess. Pursuing Kirkpatrick’s passionate affair through the archives across the continents, Dalrymple unveils a fascinating story of intrigue and love that breaches the conventional boundaries of empire. As Kirkpatrick gradually goes native (adopting local clothes and enduring circumcision) he becomes a secret agent working for his wife’s royal family against the English, as he tries to balance the interests of both cultures.

However, White Mughals is by no means just an exotic love story. It is a vehicle for Dalrymple’s understanding of the complex legacy of the English Empire in India, that he defines more in terms of exchange and negotiation than dominance and subjugation. It is a powerful and moving plea by Dalrymple to understand the cultural intermingling and hybridity that defines both eastern and western cultures, and a convincing rejection of religious intolerance and ethnic essentialism. Elegantly written and at a pace that belies its length, White Mughals confirms Dalrymple’s status as one of the most important non-fiction writers of his time.
– Jerry Brotton

Editions

White Mughals Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 29 March 2002
Publisher: Harper-Collins
ISBN: 978-0006550969
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Reviews and Quotes

Frank McLynn, The Independent on Sunday
“Love and war are usually thought to inhabit different spheres and, except in Tolstoy, we do not expect them to mix. Part of the achievement of this magnificent book is the way William Dalrymple effortlessly melds the two motifs so that the public story of the British conquest of India and the poignant tale of a love affair interpenetrate, with each adding a dimension to the other. Much of Dalrymple’s narrative has the pace of a thriller... [but] above all this book is a bravura display of scholarship, writing and insight. No brief review can do justice to its manifold excellence and all one can say is that Dalrymple manages the incredible feat of outpointing most historians and novelists in one go. This is quite simply a stunning achievement.”
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Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times
“A gorgeous, spellbinding and important book... A tapestry of magnificent set pieces and a moving romance. William Dalrymple’s story of a colonial love affair will change our views about British India.”
Philip Ziegler, Daily Telegraph
“Enthralling... this rich and splendidly sprawling book.”
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Charles Allen, Literary Review
“The most touching love story to have come out of India since Shah Jehan and Begum Mumtaz, whose death inspired the Taj Mahal... It is far more romantic than any work of fiction could be, and more tragic in its outcome, with a final twist guaranteed to make the eyes dazzle. Dalrymple is the most perceptive and sympathetic observer of the Asian scene writing today, and for the Indophile, the lover of romance and the lover of the written word, White Mughals is nothing less than a kush bagh, a garden of delights...”
Amanda Foreman
“White Mughals is destined to become an instant classic.”
Ahmed Rashid
“Imaginitively conceived, beautifully written, intellectually challenging and a passionate love story- this is Dalrymple’s lifetime achievement and the best book he has ever written. He has done for India and the British what Edward Said did for the meeting between the West and Arab world in ‘Orientalism’. Despite its setting in the 18th century, this is a hugely important contemporary book. Dalrymple has broken new ground in the current debate about racism, colonialism and globalization. The history of the British in India will never be the same after this book.”
Francis Robinson, The TLS
“Moving, wide-ranging and richly textured... Through massive research blessed with serendipity, and through imagination and empathy, Dalrymple has evoked the world of the British in late 18th century India as no one has before... A wonderful book, a story of love and the humanity we share.”
Hugh MacDonald, The Herald
“White Mughals stands as a convincing indictment of imperialism and an affecting story of a love affair... Dalrymple is one of the most captivating writers of non-fiction at work today.”
Selina Hastings, Daily Mail
“Fascinating and enthralling...William Dalrymple unscrolls a wide panorama: a vivid and often turbulent panorama of India during the 18th Century. Impressively research and written with vigour and panache Dalrymple is a gifted narrator who brings vividly to life the dealings between the Indian princes and the East India Company. He brilliantly depicts some of the leading characters.”
Pankaj Mishra, The Guardian
“Technically ambitious... There is a scholarly seriousness here; also a moral passion. This capacious book is never more engaging than when Dalrymple describes with a novelists compassion, the tragic costs of Kirkpatrick’s rebellion”
Karen Armstrong
“Brilliant, poignant,and compassionate, White Mughals is not only a compelling love story, but it is also an important reminder, at this perilous moment of history, that Europeans once found Muslim society both congenial and attractive, and that it has always been possible to build bridges between Islam and the West.”
David Robinson, The Scotsman
“A superlative, groundbreaking story that fully justifies all the effort, all the costs, all the risks [it took to write].... At a time when Islamaphobia is rising to danger levels in the West we need this reminder more than ever that once, however breifly, East and West met in tolerance and peace- and love.”
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Ashok Malik, India Today
“With his historical Hyderabadi love epic, Dalrymple shows the best on-fiction about India is still written by sympathetic outsiders ...”
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New Yorker writer, New Yorker
“At the end of the eighteenth century, James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the promising young British Resident at the Shia court of Hyderabad, fell in love with Khair un-Nissa, an adolescent noble woman and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. The story of their romance and semi-secret marriage endured in local legend and family lore but was otherwise forgotten. After five years' work with a trove of documents in several languages, Dalrymple has emerged not only with a gripping tale of politics and power but also with evidence of the surprising extent of cultural exchange in pre-Victorian India, before the arrogance of empire set in. His book, ambitious in scope and rich in detail, demonstrates that a century before Kipling's "never the twain" - and two centuries before neocons and radical Islamists trumpeted the clash of civilizations - the story of the Westerner in Muslim India was not one of conquest but of appreciation, adaptation, and seduction.”
Maya Jasanoff, New York Sun
“The cross cultural romance between Khair un Nissa and James Achilles Kirkpatrick- the gripping central narrative of this book- is an extraordinary tale... Mr Dalrymple first began exploring the mingling of East and West as a travel writer, and his sensitive memoir of a year in Delhi, City of Djinns, established him as Britain's premier author on South Asia. In White Mughals he has pulled off a tour de force of scholarly research. Academics rarely let themselves get so close and the result is a veritable travelogue through the past, packed with detail and sense of place. The book breathes. You can almost smell the spiced meats in the Hyderabad biryanis or the flowering fruit trees Kirkpatrick planted in the Residency garden. Mr Dalrymple researches like a historian, thinks like an anthropologist and writes like a novelist. It is a winning combination.”
Kendal Hill, Sydney Morning Herald
“Dalrymple's work is mesmerising, both for its extraordinary scholarship and his facility for language. He also has a wonderful sense of humour, a BAFTA award for his Indian Journeys television series, a fellowship with the Royal Society of Literature (the society's youngest ever fellow), and he has just completed what he reckons is his best story... White Mughals is another stunning piece of erudition, this time reconstructing the romance between an 18th-century British general and a Muslim princess in colonial India. In the five-year process of researching and writing it, Dalrymple managed to debunk the Victorian notion of a subcontinent strictly bisected into the rulers and the ruled. Using rare, forgotten or otherwise ignored texts from British and Indian sources, he reveals the lengths to which the colonisers and their subjects loved, lived and prospered together. Not the least "fabulous" element of the story is Dalrymple's own charmed discoveries in the British Library's India Office Library, his chance find of a crucial 1600-page autobiography buried in a dusty bookshop at the back of a Hyderabadi bazaar, and the unearthing of some obscure letters in an Oxford library that revealed the conclusion to the love affair. To reveal too much of the plot here would be an injustice to Dalrymple's denouement. But the strength of the story can be judged from the fact its hardback sales are already more than three times those of his previous books, from his receipt of England's major history prize, and from the academic and critical acclaim it is attracting.”
Phillippa Barrett, Next
“Spellbound I finished this epic true tale in one six hour session. Its the extraordinary grand scale story of James Kirkpatrick, amorous adventurer, British diplomat and soldier who scandalised society by falling in love with a high born Muslim girl. He impregnated her, married her and built and built a palace for her and her two children. Their romance was littered with personal and political intrigue, treachery, debauchery, betrayal and tragedy. Expert narration and impressively researched detail make this book a must-read.”
Marion McLeod, Dominion Post
“This is history in the Tolstoyan mode, a cross-over narrative that makes a history of the 18th century read like a gripping novel, for all that it is clearly a work of meticulous scholarship.... A wonderful weaving of history and romance... poignant and finally tragic.”
Khushwant Singh, The Tribune
“Thoroughly researched and well-told – I haven't read anything as gripping since Dalrymple's earlier City of Djinns.”
Ahdaf Soueif, TLS Books of the Year
“I've always enjoyed William Dalrymple's work. His White Mughals is a wonderful book. A love story- with the saddest consequences- between a Hyderabadi princess and the English Resident is the occasion for an exploration of the relationship between Britain and India before the Raj set in.”
Atul Chaturvedi, Indian Express on Sunday
“A triumph of the historian's craft.”
Kirkus Review
“Masterfully demonstrating that truth can trump fiction, English travel writer Dalrymple relates a wrenching tale of love's labours lost on the Indian subcontinent. Dalrymple argues that the Brits 'went native' a lot more than is commonly thought and that West can meet East when love is the lingua franca. Rigorously researched, intelligent, compassionate. A tour de force.”