Shors's spirited debut novel tells the story of the eldest daughter of the 17th-century emperor who built the Taj Mahal. From her self-imposed exile, Jahanara recalls growing up in the Red Fort; the devotion her parents, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, had for each other; and the events that took place during the construction of the fabulous monument to their love. Although Jahan is the emperor and has many wives, Mumtaz (he calls her Taj) is his soul mate, a constant companion and wise political consultant. She even travels with him into battle, where she eventually dies giving birth to their 14th child. Fortunately, she has the foresight to begin preparing her favorite daughter, Jahanara, by instructing the girl in the arts of influence and political strategy. Thus the young woman is able to pick up where her savvy mother left off. From then on it is Jahanara who advises the emperor, often instead of her dreamy brother, Dara, who is the rightful heir to the throne. It is she who helps with construction of the magnificent mausoleum for Mumtaz's remains and who falls in love with its architect, Isa, a man whom she can never marry. And it is she who leads a failed effort to defend the throne against a coup by her evil brother, Aurangzeb. With infectious enthusiasm and just enough careful attention to detail, Shors give a real sense of the times, bringing the world of imperial Hindustan and its royal inhabitants to vivid life.
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"Jahanara is a beguiling heroine whom readers will come to love; none of today's chick-lit heroines can match her dignity, fortitude and cunning. Elegant, often lyrical, writing distinguishes this literary fiction from the genre known as historical romance. It is truly a work of art, rare in a debut novel."
- The Des Moines Register
"Beneath a Marble Sky is a story which literally speaks to you. In his first novel, John Shors brilliantly recounts one of the world's greatest love stories, narrated against a backdrop of hatred and violence." - India Post
"(A) story of romance and passion. (Beneath a Marble Sky) is a wonderful book if you want to escape to a foreign land while relaxing in your porch swing." - St. Petersburg Times
"A majestic novel that irresistibly draws the reader within its saga of human struggles, failings, alliances and betrayals." - Midwest Book Review
"Beneath a Marble Sky is a passionate, lush, and dramatic novel, rich with a sense of place. John Shors is an author of sweeping imaginative force." - Sandra Gulland, author of The Josephine B. Trilogy
As any reader of travel brochures knows, the Taj Mahal is a monument built by a grieving widower in remembrance of his beloved wife. Travel Channel viewers may be aware of more detail, like the fact that it was built in 1632 by the Emperor of Hindustan, Shah Jahan, to symbolize his love for his wife, Mumatz Mahal, whom he called "Taj." But only readers of this exquisite tale will be able to gain a thorough understanding of what life must have been like in that time and place, where love was neither easily obtained nor free of political ties.
The author centers his tale on Princess Jahanara, the oldest daughter of the Shah and Mahal, as she tells the story of their great love to her granddaughters. Jahanara also talks about her own romance, but hers was of the forbidden type that's rife with conflict, abuse, and censure. These intimate events are set against the backdrop of the era-a difficult time of war, rebellion, and religious tension. The result is a rich story that informs readers of little-discussed history, but doesn't weigh them down with it. Rather, Shors is adept at letting the parallel tales unfold through his increasingly complex characters. Most touching are scenes like the one in which Jahanara sees the first large sketches of the monument, done by her lover, an architect she can't marry: "It gave life to something wondrous, something he'd called a tear of Allah. To me, the mausoleum became a jewel surpassing even Mother's beauty. Its arches and towers and facades were not of this world."
Shors infuses this novel (his first) with his love of the foreign; after his college graduation, he lived in Japan and then backpacked across the continent, spending a large amount of time in India. Returning to America, he worked as a newspaper reporter in Iowa, winning a statewide journalism award for investigative reporting, and then as a public relations executive. This personal exploration is apparent in the novel, since Shors's descriptions are like those of a passionate traveler who appreciates exotic locales.
Although he brings Jahanara to life gradually, and makes her pain and ecstasy feel real, Shors also creates a vivid and striking world that feels as close as a plane ride. Most important, he manages to convey universal feelings in a tangible and intimate way. Shah Jahan's grief isn't just that of a man who lived centuries ago; it's a well of emotion felt long before Mumatz Mahal ever lived, and is still felt today. Shors's ability to tap into that well, and make it so alive, renders the novel as luminous a jewel as any that adorn the Taj Mahal's walls. -- ForeWord Magazine
In his debut, Shors offers a glimpse into the politics and intrigue of the 17th-century court of India during and after the construction of the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for the beloved wife of Mughul emperor Shah Jahan. Told through the eyes of the emperor's daughter, the story contrasts the opulence of the court with the desperate poverty of the citizens; we also see the influence of women on political decisions and the perpetual tensions between religious fundamentalism and tolerance. The book is a thrilling tale of the interactions of characters recognizable for their loyalty, duplicity, and passion and will appeal to a wide audience. The author has included enough accurate details to make regular readers of historical fiction happy, too. Highly recommended for all libraries. -- Library Journal, Kim Uden Rutter, Antioch, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information