1. Title, author, and date of book?
Beneath a Marble Sky: A Novel of the Taj Mahal, by John Shors, 2004.
2. Genre: historical fiction
3. What made you want to read it?
Since the Taj Mahal was just voted one of the NEW seven wonders of the world, the timing seemed perfect.
4. Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
The story takes us to 17th-century Hindustan, where the reigning emperor, consumed with grief over the tragic death of his beloved wife, commissions the building of the Taj Mahal as a testament to their love. (Hindustan is the ancient name for the place where Hindus live, in what is today called India.)
5. What did you think of the main character?
"Princess Jahanara recounts the mesmerizing tale of her parents' love, while sharing her own parallel tale of forbidden love with the celebrated architect of the Taj Mahal." (Does that sentence from the publisher sound slightly melodramatic? So is the book.)
6. Were there any especially interesting characters?
Yes, I was taken by Nizam and Ladli, friends and servants of the narrator. Nizam was amazingly strong and perfect in protecting Jahanara and her family; Ladli, Jahanara's Hindu friend, always managed to perfectly spy on "the enemy" and confound his plans. Both would have been even more interesting if they weren't protrayed as heroic beyond belief.
7. Did you think the characters and their problems were believable?
More or less. The author WAS having to work within historical parameters, but the love story between the narrator and the architect hired to build the Taj Mahal was a bit overwrought ... as though the author hoped the book would eventually appear as a Bollywood film.
8. From whose point of view is the story told?
Princess Jahanara, daughter of Shah Jahan, emperor of Hindustan. She is telling her life story to her two young granddaughters.
9. Was location or time period important to the story?
Yes, it was the whole point, to tell the story of the construction of this soaring and beautiful building.
10. What did you like least?
Jahanara, knowing the evil inclinations of an opponent, had a chance to let him die. Instead, using romanticized logic, she risked her own life to save him. Foreshadowing? Oh, yeah, the reader knows she just made a horrible mistake and people, including Jahanara and her family and the people of Hindustan, will suffer for the choice she made.
11. What about the ending?
Shall we all say in unison, "And they lived happily ever after"? At least the ones still alive.
12. What do you think will be your lasting impression of this book?
I enjoyed learning how huge the structure really is, which is not apparent from the usual photos most of us have seen. It's a lot bigger than I had imagined and that, not the love stories, will stay with me forever.
13. How would you rate the book?
Rated 8/10, very good (... but not excellent)
Here are some links showing the architectural beauty of the monument:
1. Take a virtual tour of the Taj Mahal.
2. Beautiful photos of the Taj Mahal.
3. Four photos, including one showing descendents of the original Muslim builders, still doing inlaid stonework.
4. Detail photo of one of the towers.