From the author of the Samuel Johnson prize-shortlisted ‘Return of a King’, 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, but such things were not unknown: from the early sixteenth century 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. Dalrymple unearths such colourful figures as ‘Hindoo Stuart’, who travelled with his own team of Brahmins to maintain his temple of idols, and Sir David Auchterlony, who took all 13 of his Indian wives out for evening promenades, each on the back of her 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.
‘William Dalrymple is that rarity, a scholar of history who can really write. This is a brilliant and compulsively readable book’ Salman Rushdie
‘Destined to become an instant classic’ Amanda Foreman
‘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’ Independent on Sunday
‘Gorgeous, spellbinding and important, [a] tapestry of magnificent set-pieces’ Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times
‘Enthralling … brilliant, as exhaustively researched as it is brilliantly written’ Mail on Sunday
About the author
William Dalrymple’s first book, In Xanadu, won the Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award. His second, City of Djinns, won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award. His third, From the Holy Mountain, was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize and the Thomas Cook Award. A collection of his pieces about India, The Age of Kali, was published in 1998.
Dalrymple, author of the bestselling In Xanadu,now anchors himself in India around the turn of the 19th century to focus on James Kirkpatrick, an officer for the East India Company and the British Resident, representing the British government, in the Indian city-state of Hyderabad. Kirkpatrick, who converted to Islam and, after a celebrated and notorious romance, married Khair un-Nissa, the teenage great-niece of the region's prime minister, exemplifies the "White Mughals," British colonialists who "went native." One of the book's strengths is its stunningly detailed depiction of day-to-day life gardens, food, sexual mores, modes of travel and architecture and portraits of British governors-general, Indian politicians, their wives and families, and adventurers. It is also an astute study of the political complications Kirkpatrick faced because of his conversion and cross-cultural marriage, and the difficulties his divided loyalties caused him in his role as agent of the increasingly imperialistic British. But most suspenseful is the fate of Kirkpatrick's willful and charismatic wife, just 19 when he died in 1805, and the fate of their children. The twists and turns in the life of their daughter sent to England when she was five, never to return to India or see her mother again are fascinating. Dalrymple makes note of the present schism, which some believe unbridgeable, between Western and Eastern civilizations and Kirkpatrick's tale as a counterexample that the two can meet. Illus., maps. (On sale Mar. 31)