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Beneath a Marble Sky: A Novel of the Taj Mahal    by John Shors order for
Beneath a Marble Sky
by John Shors
Order:  USA  Can
New American Library, 2006 (2004)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

John Shors has written a beautiful story of the lives of those most involved in the creation and building of the Taj Mahal. Told by the daughter of the woman who inspired the building, Beneath a Marble Sky is a turbulent account of the life of the nobility, with its extreme luxury, as seen through the eyes of an intelligent girl.

Raised in a loving family, Jahanara is lucky enough to be able to learn many things. She values the scholarship of her oldest brother, the heir to the throne, but knows that he will have to be much more than a scholar to be a successful ruler. At the same time, she cannot understand - but has to learn to deal with - the cruelty and treachery of her other older brother. Although there are fourteen children in the family, it is this sibling triangle that propels the story.

We see the daily life of the royal family, and the picture is in pleasant contrast to what is to come. Above all, there is love and loyalty. The rulers are just, and the wife of the ruler has as much say as her husband, unusual for the time. In this happy atmosphere, Jahanara grows to maturity. However, underneath it all is much intrigue among the nobles and servants, with spies everywhere. In addition to dealing with jealous nobles and having to fight border wars, Jahanara's father must ensure that his oldest will be strong enough to wield the power that is to be his, and that his strong, jealous and hot-blooded younger son will accept his brother.

Upon his wife's death, the Mughal ruler determines to erect a monument fit for his love. The building of the Taj Mahal, described in detail here, is a vast undertaking, and serves to increase the separation of the brothers. The country is populated by Muslims and Hindus, and while the oldest son wishes nothing more than to have these peoples live together in harmony, the younger is a Muslim bigot. This discord ultimately leads to tragedy, but Jahanara learns that hardships can be survived through love, loyalty and - strangely but beautifully meaningful when contemplating the Taj Mahal - grief.

This book has been typeset with care and looks really good on the page, but I think every historical novel should come with a map, and I missed one here. The story, though, made me want to check out the area personally!

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