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C. P. Lesley

Bookworm, writer, radio host—I blog about history, fiction, and publishing in the Internet Age. You can find the full blog on my website. This space is for books.

Mughals, not Vikings!

Raiders from the North: Empire of the Moghul - Alex Rutherford

I have read earlier accounts of the life of Babur, king of Ferghana and first Mughal emperor of Hindustan (India), but other than Babur's own, remarkably fresh and candid but incomplete account, this is by far the best.


Babur inherited his kingdom at the age of twelve and lost it before he turned fifteen. He took Samarkand, the center of his ancestor Timur's (better known in the West as Tamerlane) empire, three times,only to lose it a few months later. Yet he refused to accept defeat, conquering and holding Kabul, then northern Hindustan, which his descendants ruled for the next 400+ years.


I loved the sensory detail and the fidelity to Babur's memoirs, the author's filling in of the many gaps in Babur's story. As a novelist, I did note that the reliance on the life of a historical person—and a very articulate one, at that—hems the author in, in a sense. The story continues past the point where a wholly invented novel would normally end, and Babur's reasons for leaving a place he loves to continue his quest for glory are not (to me) perfectly clear, despite the efforts made to explain them. It may be an inability on my part to project myself into the past. I would also have liked to see more of Babur's wives and his remarkable daughter Gulbadan, who has left an articulate, candid memoir of her own.


On the whole, though, this book is a real achievement—well worth reading.