Beneath a Marble Sky
John Shors
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Buy *Beneath a Marble Sky: A Novel of the Taj Mahal* online

Beneath a Marble Sky: A Novel of the Taj Mahal
John Shors
NAL Trade
368 pages
June 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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As the story begins, an aging but aristocratic woman rows in a boat with her granddaughters to a remote spot. When no one can overhear, she tells them a fantastic tale of her true identity and their heritage. The woman is Jahanara, daughter of Shah Jahan, a descendant of Emperor Jahangir, the Emperor of Hindustan in the early 1600s who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

The recent years have been the only peaceful ones Jahanara has know since the days of her youth, now forced to hide from her brother, the Emperor Alamgir, "Conqueror of the World," who would put his sister to death if he knew where to find her as he did with his brothers. As the oldest child, Jahanara is favored by both parents for her beauty and intelligence and willingly accepts an arranged marriage, although she is unhappy with her husband, who beats and humiliates her.

The Emperor Shah Jahan is obsessed with the Taj Mahal, directing his daughter to oversee the daily progress of the building; there she meets the love of her life, Isa. Through her father's machinations, Jahanara is able to enjoy private moments with her lover and bears him a daughter, convincing her husband the girl is his. With Isa and her daughter, life is bearable for Jaharana.

After the death of his wife, the bereft Shah Jahan, barely able to attend to the business of his kingdom, allows his warlike son Aurangzeb too much freedom, intending the more compassionate Dara to assume the throne after he dies. Unfortunately, Aurangzeb (later known as Alamgir) becomes more powerful, eventually seizing the throne and imprisoning his father, slaying any brothers who might claim the throne.

The following years are filled with turmoil for Jahanara, separated from her beloved and their daughter and eventually imprisoned with her father. Through a series of twists and turns, the princess endures years of hardship and betrayal, using her extraordinary guile to escape from her brother. In the most desperate hours of her confinement, the princess draws strength from the love of her mother and memories of the early years.

The struggles of the princess to protect her ailing father, endure the enforced distance from her lover and daughter and live with the constant acid of Alamgir's hate are depicted in vivid detail. Only with patience and cunning does Jahanara manage to survive, learning the true nature of humanity with the unexpected aid of those who also loved her mother.

Filled with the harsh beauty of the desert and the inimitable Taj Mahal, Shors guides the reader through the Scheherazade-like mysteries of the Middle East: the luxuries of the harem, the clashing swords of war and the ties of love that cannot be broken. With a passion that transcends the ages, the daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan learns the true meaning of her heritage and the obligations of royalty.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Luan Gaines, 2005

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