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History Today’s Books of the Year 2023

Kirkus Reviews: Finally, a serious consideration of Gulbadan’s achievement, long “sidelined by modern historians.” Read the Review

A comprehensive and vivid portrait of an exceptional historical figure.
Publishers Weekly review of VAGABOND PRINCESS

MS. MAGAZINE: Vagabond Princess among the Most Anticipated Feminist Books of 2024. Original, trailblazer, rediscovery

“Lal manages to recreate [Gulbadan’s life] beautifully. . . . A very vivid book.”
—Sophie Roell, Five Books, Nonfiction Books to Look Out for in Early 2024

“[Vagabond Princess] draws back the veil that has for so long obscured the influential women of the Mughal regime. Meticulously researched and demonstrating Lal’s impressive skills as a translator…Lal’s research into previously hidden worlds is at the forefront of an exciting academic movement”
—Lucy Moore, Literary Review, Escape to Mecca

At a time when the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is reducing Mughal history content in school history textbooks in India, it is all the more important to continue bringing the lives of Mughal women to the attention of the world. Ruby Lal has succeeded in giving us a biography of an extraordinary life that women in the twenty-first century in India and the world can draw inspiration from.
—Lopamudra Basu, India Currents, Read the full review.

Vogue India: “Lal is one of those fine historians who connects bygone events as a thread that firmly binds humans through time. …Her tenacity in chasing this manuscript over two decades across continents and finally sharing it in this lucid form with present-day readers is admirable… Vagabond Princess brings alive an eternally fascinating dimension of 16th-century India.”

“Like a meticulous and careful detective… Lal unearths clues … writes with authority and panache… Gulbadan’s character emerges impactfully… strong-willed, deeply loyal to her family, keen-sighted. A woman who had known freedom and adventure.”
— Madhulika Liddle, Frontline, The unique memoirs of Mughal princess Gulbadan Begum

“Ruby Lal crafts her biography of Gulbadan as a work taking shape in those archival traces that began to connect in unexpected ways. The Vagabond Princess thus emerges as a book that lays bare the tenuous processes of its own making. It invites historians and readers into a serendipitous archival quest and offers new ways of writing history in a self-reflexive mode. There is perhaps no better way of reclaiming the lives of women from the disregard of the historical record.”
— Madhumita Mazumdar, The Telegraph, Life & history reclaimed

“The subject of study and indeed life’s work, of the renowned feminist historian, Ruby Lal… Vagabond Princess will go a long way in establishing Gulbadan Begum as a daring princess and consummate explorer whether it be new territories or old traditions”
—Rana Safvi, Scroll.in, ‘Vagabond Princess’: Ruby Lal’s biography of Mughal princess Gulbadan is lush and evocative

“Lal engages… with deep curiosity and attention. Building a richer his­tory from the archives than has ever been told of Gulbadan… Lal excels at creating a story of baffling and fascinating contradictions… Vagabond Princess is buoyed by a remark­able visuality”
—Urvashi Bahuguna, OPEN, Free Spirit

“Lal breathes gorgeous life into a figure and her time and place in a history that has long been dominated by men’s actions and words.”
India-West Journal

“Gulbadan, literate, observant, intelligent, a central observer to the establishment of the Mughal Empire, is a historical figure well worth discovering. Lal’s enthusiasm for her is infectious. . . . [Lal] is a fluent writer, with a good grasp of atmosphere and description [and who] knows how to tell a good story.”
—Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books, “Vagabond Princess: The Great Adventures of Gulbadan” by Ruby Lal

“The Epic voyage of a daring Mughal Princess.”
—Cherylann Mollab, BBC, Gulbadan Begum: The epic voyage of a daring Mughal princess

“The Remarkable Princess Gulbadan, flower of the Mughal Court.”
—Anthony Sattin, The Spectator, The remarkable Princess Gulbadan, flower of the Mughal court

“A fascinating account of an exciting woman from an interesting period of Mughal history.”
—Sushila Ravindranath, The Hindu, Review of Ruby Lal’s Vagabond Princess

“Ruby Lal coaxes the remarkable Gulbadan out from the shadows of history…. Adrienne Rich… wrote about the necessity of ‘decoding difficult and complex messages left to us by women of the past.’ Ms. Lal has honored that mission.”
—Sara Wheeler, Wall Street Journal, ‘Vagabond Princess’ Review: Gulbadan’s Journey to the West

“Gulbadan’s epic voyage challenges the notion that Mughal women were confined to seclusion and passivity. Her story highlights bravery, resilience, and a yearning for freedom in a society dominated by powerful men. By piecing together fragmented records and delving into various historical sources, Ruby Lal sheds light on a remarkable woman who defied societal norms and embarked on a daring pilgrimage.”
—Alice, Third Eye Analyst, The Inspiring Journey of Gulbadan Begum: A Tale of Bravery and Rebellion
Indian American Historian Ruby Lal’s New Book ‘Vagabond Princess’ Receives Critical Acclaim
American Kahani
Historian Ruby Lal’s new Book ‘Vagabond Princess’ creating ripples
The Indian EYE

The Great Adventures of Gulbadan

Vagabond Princess

Situated in the early decades of the magnificent Mughal Empire, this first ever biography of Princess Gulbadan offers an enthralling portrait of a charismatic adventurer and unique pictures of the multicultural society in which she lived. Following a migratory childhood that spanned Kabul and north India, Gulbadan spent her middle years in a walled harem established by her nephew Akbar to showcase his authority as the Great Emperor. Gulbadan longed for the exuberant itinerant lifestyle she’d known. With Akbar’s blessing, she led an unprecedented sailing and overland voyage and guided harem women on an extended pilgrimage in Arabia. Amid increasing political tensions, the women’s “un-Islamic” behavior forced their return, lengthened by a dramatic shipwreck in the Red Sea.

Gulbadan wrote a book upon her return, the only extant work of prose by a woman of her times. A portion of it is missing, either lost to history or redacted by officials who did not want the princess to have her say.

Vagabond Princess contemplates the story of the missing pages and breathes new life into a daring historical figure. A portal to a richly complex world, rife with movement and migration, where women’s conviviality, adventure, and autonomies shine through.

Advance Praise for Vagabond Princess

An astonishing work by one of the most exciting historians writing today. Vagabond Princess is more than just a brilliant page-turner of a biography, narrating in vivid detail a story few people know. It is a passionate and compelling argument to place the extraordinary Gulbadan among the pantheon of great adventurers like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo. I loved this book.

Reza Aslan, author of Zealot and An American Martyr in Persia

In Vagabond Princess, Ruby Lal brilliantly illuminates the remarkable life and talent of Princess Gulbadan Begum, daughter of Emperor Babur and historian of her own times. Lost and forgotten for many centuries, Begum and her work live again through Lal’s magisterial account of the 16th-century Mughal court.

Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Vagabond Princess is a deeply feminist text interrogating the making of archives, obsessed with imagining the spirit of freedom and love of learning in certain Mughal women, with a stunning buildup of the concept-metaphor of mujawir as ‘vagabond.’ A splendid teaching text, but also a reading text for sheer instructive pleasure; as we follow the epistemological performance of the making of the book with the book itself.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, author of Other Asias

A work of meticulous scholarship and brilliant storytelling, Vagabond Princess is both an epic historical tale and a compelling personal account of one of the most interesting women to have lived during the Mughal Empire.

Daniel H. Weiss, Homewood Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins and President Emeritus of The Met

Meticulous archival research combines with a strikingly imaginative evocation of the world inhabited by Mughal women in Ruby Lal’s writing. Whether set against the dust and grit of imperial caravans, salt-lashed sea voyages, or the manicured precision of Mughal gardens, her vagabond princess, Gulbadan, surprises us at every turn. A superb achievement.

Nandini Das, author of Courting India: Seventeenth-Century England, Mughal India, and the Origins of Empire

Empress

The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan

In 1611, thirty-four-year-old Nur Jahan became the twentieth and favorite wife of the Emperor Jahangir, who ruled the vast Mughal Empire. An astute politician as well as a talented dress designer and innovative architect whose work inspired her stepson’s Taj Mahal, Nur was the only woman to acquire the stature of Empress in her male- dominated world. Here, she finally receives her due in a deeply researched and evocative biography that awakens us to a fascinating history.

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Empress book cover

“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.”
– Rafia Zakaria, Guardian

Awards for Empress

Finalist, 2019 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes in History;

Winner55th Georgia Author of the Year Award in Biography 

‘Outstanding’—Simon Heffer, History Books of the Year 2018, Telegraph (UK)

‘Marvellous’—Prospect’s Books of 2018: History, Prospect

An enthralling biography of the most powerful Mughal woman in history

When it came to hunting, she was a master shot. As a dress designer, few could match. An ingenious architect, she innovated the use of marble in her parents’ mausoleum on the banks of the Yamuna, which inspired her stepson’s Taj Mahal. And she was both celebrated and reviled for her political acumen and diplomatic skill, which rivaled those of her female counterparts in Europe and beyond.

In 1611, Nur Jahan became the twentieth and most cherished wife of Emperor Jahangir. Soon she rose to be his co-sovereign and ruled the vast Mughal Empire alongside him. An astute politician and a devoted partner, Nur led troops into battle to free Jahangir when he was imprisoned by one of his officers. She signed and issued imperial orders, and coins of the realm bore her name.

Acclaimed historian Ruby Lal uncovers the rich life and world of Nur Jahan, rescuing this dazzling figure from clichés of romance and intrigue, while giving a new insight into the lives of women and girls during the Mughal era. In Empress, Nur Jahan finally receives her due in a deeply researched and evocative biography that awakens us to a fascinating history.

Praise for the Book

‘A luminous biography . . . 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’—Rafia Zakaria, The Guardian

‘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. . . . [Nur] 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’—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

‘Lal makes clear her subject’s relevance . . . Closely researched and vividly written, this telling finds that the truth is as fantastic and fascinating as myth’—Publishers Weekly (starred)

More praise for Empress

Empress in the Media

Atlas Obscura

Female scholars write about long-forgotten historic women.

Time Magazine

Featured in Time Magazine

Prospect Magazine UK

The New York Times

Editors’ Choice / Staff Pick in the August 19 issue of The New York Times Book Review!

The New Yorker

features Empress in Books: Briefly Noted

The Guardian

The Rise and Reign of a Self Made Mughal Queen” The Guardian reviews Empress

Los Angeles Review of Books

Kirkus

Kirkus gives Empress a starred review

Bookish

A must read!

BBC

A top ten read for July!

LitHub

Op-ed on Empress Nur Jahan and the Politics of Erasure in Modern India

Royal News Blog

features Empress

Khabar

reviews Empress

The Economist

reviews Empress

Telegraph

reviews Empress

India New England News

reviews Empress

Business Standard

reviews Empress

Quartz India

reviews Empress

Daily Times Pakistan

reviews Empress