Monday, July 30, 2007

Beneath a Marble Sky ~ by John Shors

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.


Stephanie said...

I loved this book!! But I don't know even if he was horrible, if I could kill my brother!!

I really want to visit the Taj Mahal someday. It sounds so beautiful!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I know, Stephanie, and I probably couldn't either. But two things:
(1) She wouldn't have been killing him, just not stopping it.
(2) Because he lived, thousands of people died horrible deaths ... and she knew this would happen.

Though I don't think I could ever say "kill him," it's something to consider ... what she did was like saving Hitler's life. Misery continued to follow in his wake, like the hatred he encouraged, the wars he waged, poverty, prejudice, turning people against each other, massive numbers of deaths, and the kingdom falling apart.

Dewey said...

This looks interesting. It seems like you're just zipping through the books lately!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

What's really happening, Dewey, is that I'm writing more reviews lately. I have zipped through books all my life, including recently. I now have a new strategy for working on my book, which includes more reviews here. I designed the book review questions, which you have seen, and decided to use it instead of what I've been doing privately. For those of you wondering, I have been working for over a year on a book for book clubs.

Dewey said...

A book for book clubs is a great idea! Will it help them get started and so forth?

I wish I zipped through books. I'm such a slow reader. I feel like I've been reading Lisey's Story forever. It's been exactly a week! I finished the Harry Potter last Monday afternoon and started Lisey's Story last Monday evening. It is a 500 page book, but still. And I'm not even at work! When school starts, I'll be even slower.

Jennifer said...

I have Lisley's Story on my TBR bookshelf, Dewey. Let me know how you liked it when you're done?

You're writing a book for bookclubs, Bonnie? Sounds awesome and helpful. I've been marginally guiding Essencia Island for the past month or so (Marylyn nicknamed me OC: organizational chief) because at one point people were starting to worry about it falling apart, even though there was interest to continue. It is the first bookclub I've ever been in (aside from reading The Road with Book Buddies) and I really wanted to step up and do what I could to keep it going. But, I didn't think I could come up with good discussion questions/points so I didn't want to guide discussions. Any advice you could give me on helping keeping EI rolling along would be great!

Related to EI being the first bookclub I've been in and my recent posts at BATS, previous to all this, I hadn't done anything relating books to the internet, even though I've always read voraciously. Basically, I want to say I'm really enjoying all the book blogs. Both yours and the reviews on others that you've linked to from BATS and BATW. I'm inspired to go get a library card again to be able to read all the books I want to off of those because I know I couldn't afford to buy them all. I'm also having future aspirations to join a book challenge like the ones I see on your blogs and others (especially since I remember seeing one related to a NYT Book Review list somewhere) and possibly starting a book blog to write reviews at sometime. But, one step at a time. Mostly, I want to say thank you for leading me to this facet of the internet world.

Marg said...

I'll definitely be adding this to my list to read down the track

I am reading a book called Taj: The Woman and the Wonder by Sandra Wilson at the moment which is a similar setting so it will be interesting to compare the two.