Rummanah Aasi
  The Taj Mahal, located in Agra, India, is considered one of the seven wonders of the world. It was built during the reign of Shah Jahan when the Mughal Empire ruled India. Shah Jahan was grief stricken when his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during child birth. Legend has it that his wife requested her husband to build her a memorial after she died.  The main mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later. For romantics, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of an eternal love story. For cynics, it is just simply a tomb and another indication of one's hubris and selfishness. Personally, I love the love story behind the Taj Mahal, though I can see the opposing viewpoint as well. Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors brings the legend of the Taj Mahal to the forefront of his story.

Description: Princess Jahanara is torn between living life for herself and fulfilling her duties as a member of Hindustan's royal family, a daughter, sister, and mother. When her mother dies and promises her father to create a memorial in her memory, Jahanara tries to help her father, Shah Jahan, in his quest while also working to save the empire from civil war, and falling in love.

Review: I grew up with the legend of the Taj Mahal. In fact one of my favorite Bollywood movies is Taj Mahal from 1963 that stars Pradeep Kumar and Bina Rai. The movie perfectly captures the romance and court intrigue of the Mughal time period. Beneath a Marble Sky does the same for an audience who are not aware of this time period. 
  The novel is told from the perspective of Jahanara, who recounts her life to her two granddaughters. The granddaughters are unaware of their true lineage to the throne. Now a grandmother, Jahanara goes backward in time to explain why the girls were kept in the dark about their imperial connections. Though Jahanara is royalty, we also get a glimpse of what life is like outside the palace halls where women had influence on political decisions and the constant struggle between keeping peace and tolerance in a nation of multiple religions.
  Beneath a Marble Sky is most certainly a plot driven novel, where the time period and court intrigue takes center stage rather than a critical look at the empire. Though the novel is subtitled a love story, the love story of Jahanara is a subdued one. Keeping up Indian traditions, the individual's desire takes a second priority to family obligations. Thus the love in 'love story' is mainly a familial love as Jahanara tries to become the perfect daughter and sister. 
  Jahanara is an interesting character that appealed to both my traditional and modern viewpoints. She was active when she needed to be and pretending to be passive when it was necessary. I connected to her struggle to fulfill her family duties as well as putting herself second. Jahanara was encouraged by her savvy mother to learn the arts of influence and political strategy. Thus the young woman is able to pick up where her savvy mother left off and from behind the court scenes able to protect the throne. Jahanara becomes the emperor's main adviser instead of her dreamy and idealistic brother, Dara, who is the rightful heir to the throne. She is also a key player in the construction of the Taj Mahal, where she gets involved with a forbidden romance. I was really impressed on how Shors, a man with no personal connection to India, was able to capture the voice of a believable Mughal Princess. He provides enough rich, historical details to transport the reader back in time.
  Though the secondary characters are kind of one dimensional, I couldn't help but be caught up in the romantic tale of the Taj Mahal. The book reads quickly with plenty of situations where loyalty, family, and passion are called into question. Though not a bodice ripper nor filled with historical inaccuracies like The Other Boleyn Girl, it has plenty of melodrama and romance to keep the reader busy.  I think this book will appeal to a wide audience and does give a good sense of what it was like to live during the Mughal Empire.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and lots of war violence. Rape and physical abuse are also alluded in the story. There is also a few sex scenes though they are not very explicit. Recommended to high school students who are interested in learning about India's history and to adults.

If you like this book try: The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan
3 Responses
  1. Safoora Says:

    I read this book a while ago and I loved it!! I thought it was so colourful and the story really drew me in. A good mix of fiction and fact and really well told. I've left my copy of the book back at my parents' house and next time I'm home, I'll have to grab it. After reading this review, I'm itching to re-read it!

  2. Jenny Says:

    Oh I like that this is a different type of love story and so much of it deals with the family while the actual romance part is more quiet. Such a beautiful cover too, love those colors:)

  3. Safoora: I picked this one shortly after you told me about it. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Jenny: I love this cover compared to the other ones. It definitely highlights the culture and the premise of the book.

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