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Taj: The Woman and the Wonder    by Sandra Wilson order for
by Sandra Wilson
Order:  USA  Can
Amundson Davis, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The Taj Mahal, considered by many to be the most beautiful building in the world, was constructed by a grieving husband for his wife. Like the building, she was very beautiful. Taj tells the story of the man and wife involved, from their childhoods to their deaths. As fiction, much of the book is conjecture on the author's part as to what was said and what motivations were. But the history is based on fact.

In 1614, Mumtaz Mahal traveled to Agra, India for her wedding to Prince Khurram, who was destined to become the Fifth Mughal Emperor. In 1931, Mumtaz died after hemorrhaging following the birth of their thirteenth child! How much can a human body stand? Khurram's grief knew no bounds until he hit upon the idea of building the Taj Mahal to proclaim the love he and Mumtaz shared for all the world to see and marvel at.

The luxury of their style of living knew no bounds. The finest of fabrics, liberal use of gold, and gems that would be ostentatious today were commonplace then for noblemen as well as women. To travel to a palace in Kashmir for the summer required thousands of men to accompany the caravan. There were hundreds of elephants either garlanded with fine fabrics and jewels or army elephants burdened with the means to make war. There were hundreds of camels and horses, and howdahs for the elephants to carry the royal family. What a spectacle for the common man to watch as they passed through village after village.

When Khurram won a military victory, his father literally showered him with fine gems, holding a tray of the stones above Khurram's head as the jewels fell over and round him. I imagine the wealth of the royal family would, in today's money, surpass the fortune of Bill Gates. What really caught my interest was the court intrigue. Brother against brother, father against son, son against father. All wanting to rule.

The construction of the Taj must have been a spectacle as it rose from its large base on the flat earth. Khurram sold off four palaces to buy the land. The building rose from there in white marble decorated with fine colored gemstones cut and polished to fit in tiny slits in the marble to look like flowers and vines. Arabic writing was inscribed to tell the story of the woman entombed within. Taj is a touching narrative well written. The Taj Mahal has always been on my list of places to visit. Though I haven't been there yet, it just moved up on my priority list.

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