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White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-century India [Hardcover]

William Dalrymple
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Oct 2002

‘Dalrymple’s India is as vivid as Naipaul’s’ Simon Jenkins, The Times

White Mughals is the romantic and ultimately tragic tale of a passionate love affair that transcended all the cultural, religious and political boundaries of its time.

James Achilles Kirkpatrick was the British Resident at the court of Hyderabad when he met Khair un-Nissa – ‘Most Excellent among Women’ – the great niece of the Prime Minister of Hyderabad. He fell in love with her and overcame many obstacles to marry her, converting to Islam and according to Indian sources becoming a double-agent working against the East India Company.

It is a remarkable story, involving secret assignations, court intrigue, harem politics, religious and family disputes. But such things were
not unknown; from the early sixteenth century, when the Inquisition banned the Portuguese in Goa from wearing the dhoti, to the eve of the Indian Mutiny, the ‘white Mughals’ who wore local dress and adopted Indian ways were a source of embarrassment to successive colonial administrations. William Dalrymple unearths such colourful figures as ‘Hindoo Stuart’, who travelled with his own team of Brahmins to maintain his templeful of idols; and Sir David Ochterlony, who took all thirteen of his Indian wives out for evening promenades, each on the back of their own elephant.

In White Mughals, William Dalrymple discovers a world almost entirely unexplored by history, and places at its centre a compelling tale of seduction and betrayal. The product of five years’ writing and research, triumphantly confirms Dalrymple’s reputation as one of the finest writers at work today.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 580 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st Edition edition (7 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002256762
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002256766
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.6 x 6.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 191,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. City of Djinns won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award. The Age of Kali won the French Prix D'Astrolabe and White Mughals won the Wolfson Prize for History 2003 and the Scottish Book of the Year Prize. The Last Mughal was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. His most recent book, Nine Lives, was published in 2009 to huge acclaim. He lives with his wife and three children on a farm outside Dehli.

(Photo credit: Karoki Lewis)

Product Description

Amazon Review

William Dalrymple's White Mughals is destined to become one of the great non-fictional classics of Anglo-Indian history. Dalrymple is steeped in India, having lived there for six years, and written a series of remarkable travel books chronicling its past and present, including City of Djinns and The Age of Kali. Having already earned comparisons with great travel writers like Chatwin and Theroux, Dalrymple has now produced a meticulously researched and beautifully written historical narrative on one of the most colourful but neglected aspects of British colonial rule in India.

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


‘My favourite English book of the year, [an]
irresistible masterpiece’ Philip Mansel, Spectator Books of the Year
‘A remarkable achievement: illuminating, thought-
provoking, moving – and entertaining’ David Goodall, Tablet
‘A bravura display of scholarship, writing and insight. Dalrymple manages the incredible feat of outpointing most historians and most novelists in one go. This is quite simply a stunning achievement’ Frank McLynn, Independent on
‘Gorgeous, spellbinding and important, [a] tapestry of magnificent set-pieces’ Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times
‘Enthralling…brilliant, as exhaustively researched as it is brilliantly written’ Saul David, Mail on Sunday

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
60 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unable to put this book down. 7 Jan 2005
By Ian Thumwood TOP 1000 REVIEWER
As an avid reader of history, you once in a while come across a book that is so vivd that you are immediately transported back to another world and time that you are reluctant to leave once you have completed the last page. I must admit that I was enticed to read this book following some excellent reviews and the photogenic cover but was totally unprepared as to just how compelling a read this would be. Despite the 500 or so pages, I found this book impossible to put down.
Having read a few books on the Empire of late, "The White Mughals" deals with a hitherto unknown aspect where Europeans of the 18th Century embraced Indian culture with vigor. As Dalrymple explains, this was very much the norm as many white settlers becoming Hindu or Muslim and taking Indian wives. Whilst the author laces the main theme of his story with fascinating footnotes, the book largely concerns the romance between the East India Company's governor in Hyderabad, James Kirkpatrick and the beautiful Indian noblewoman Khair un-Nissa. Having set the theme with a detailed account of the politics of the Nizam of Hyderabad's court, vivid descriptions of Indian festivals, gardens and architecture as well as the machinations of Richard Wellesley, the Governor General of the East India Company and brother to the future Duke of Wellington, the book really comes into it's own with the account of the tragic relationship between the two central characters. Not only is this book excellently researched, Dalrymple has unearthed a wonderful story which he has put across with aplomb.
Having ploughed my way through innumerable history books over the years ranging from the Romans through to the First World War, this is one of the very best books that I have read and cannot recommend it highly enough.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This superb book 31 May 2006
This is a marvellous book, history at its most appealing as documentation of a period and as gripping narrative. At its core is the love story and marriage between James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the East India Company's Hyderabad resident at the end of the 18th century, and Khair Un-Nissa, the grand-daughter of a high ranking official at the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Kirkpatrick's significance is that he represents a little-known phenomenon: the adoption by some Europeans of the religion, manners and dress of Islam or Hinduism while (in the case of the book's protagonists) retaining their essential Britishness. Around this theme of cross-cultural migration and the personal narrative of the Kirkpatrick family whose children were sent off to England at a young age and never saw their parents again, William Dalrymple has woven a marvellous tapestry of Hyderabad court life, East India Company attitudes and Anglo-Indian intrigue. The story is peopled with some fascinating human beings including the Nizam's Prime Minister Aristu Jah and his assistant and later successor Mir Alam; the William Palmers father and son who appear to have achieved as complete an identity with their host country as it is possible to imagine; Marquess Wellesley, the bullying Governor General of the day and elder brother of the (later) Duke of Wellington; Khair's mother Sharaf un-Nissa who lived on for decades after her daughter's death and whose late correspondence with her granddaughter is one of the book's most moving moments; and James Achilles Kirkpatrick himself, a decent and honourable man, anointed son of the Nizam, at first willing instrument of the Governor General's policies but later disillusioned by the latter's excesses and prepared to counter them. Read more ›
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written--- buy this book!!! 20 Mar 2004
By S. Rao
Beautifully written and very moving story of a romance between an Englishman and an Indian girl in the 18th century. The book provides an insight into how different British and Indian history could have been, had not the greed, ignorance and prejudice of a powerful few prevailed over the instincts of sensitive individuals like Kirkpatrick and many of his contemporaries.
An incredible amount of research must have gone into this book and Dalrymple's love and respect for India comes through on every page.
My only complaint is that he goes into too much detail about the politics of 18th century India -- this could possibly put off readers not familiar with India and its history. Basically at the heart of the book is the love story of Kirkpatrick and Khair -un-Nissa and several other couples like them -- and the very intricate descriptions of the politics tends to slow down the momentum.
But despite that, White Mughals is an amazing book that I would recommend to everyone -- don't be daunted by its size!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb narrative history 17 Aug 2004
I can't praise this book enough: an expertly-research, truly beguiling work of history, which brings its vibrant, glittering cast of characters to life. It is a compelling page-turner that is nevertheless neither simplified nor over-dramatised; poignant without sentimentality, analytical but never dry.
Dalrymple assembles and narrates his material with a deft touch; at every turn, his account is punctuated with the words and images of those at the drama's heart, drawn from their letters, diaries, portraits and architecture. What emerges is the tragic and immensely involving tale of cross-cultural love in Hyderabad at the very beginning of the nineteenth century: that of James Kirkpatrick, a prominent East India Company official, and Khair al-Nissa, his wealthy, high-ranking Indian wife, clothed in all the human detail the sources can provide.
What elevates the story above simple doomed romance, however, is the way Dalrymple interweaves their tale with the wider picture of the British relationship with India at the turn of the nineteenth century. Displaying the pair against a backdrop of both earlier and contemporary liaisons, examining changing attitudes as demonstrated in letters, monographs and paintings, Dalrymple makes a evocative case for Kirkpatrick and Khair al-Nissa as scions of forgotten age, when the British abroad were something quite different from their much-parodied mid- and late-19th century counterparts, dressing for dinner in the jungle.
These are the dying days of the EIC, when the opportunist merchants gradually lost out to the career militarists, when wide-scale annexation of subcontinental territories and the increasing segregation of colonial Britons from the populace around them began.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate
A great book, as everyone says. Caused me to revise utterly my opinion of Dalrymple as a writer. (Didn't like his first work, a travelogue, but this work demonstrates far greater... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Burnmoori
5.0 out of 5 stars couldn't put it down - mesmerising
I rarely finish a book. I get bored. This was captivating and mesmerising. Buy if you love history of that era. Fantastic!
Published 1 month ago by WonderWoman
3.0 out of 5 stars India but not at its best
A different view than I had expected but not the easiest book to read. If you love all things India, as I do, it is worth persevering.
Published 1 month ago by Fix
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
If the history books at school had been as good as this I might have taken more interest in the subject.
Published 2 months ago by lawrence_of_london
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly enchanting, enthralling read...
Oh, I loved this book. I could hardly put it down. I confess I know very little about the years before the Raj, before the British Crown took over India from the East India... Read more
Published 4 months ago by C. Ball
3.0 out of 5 stars What might have been.
A wealth of research has produced this detailed account of two lives set against the doings of the East India Company. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Somerset
5.0 out of 5 stars A good, satisfying read
This is the (true) story of James Kirkpatrick, who worked in India for the British East India Company. Read more
Published 5 months ago by A reader in England
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating history of India
I have read this before and found it very revealing about the colonials who ruled India. I bought it for a nephew who has Indian connections.
Published 5 months ago by Mr. D. L. Day
1.0 out of 5 stars No pictures or maps - impossible to refer to footnotes
First of all - a fantastic book. The Kindle edition however is badly let down by having no photos or maps. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Capricornio
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and entertaining but the author has a specific point of...
It's fun, entertaining and superfically accurate but the author is very forgiving of his hero and heroine and their friends and aquaintances. Read more
Published 7 months ago by W. Black
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