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Beneath a Marble Sky: A Love Story Paperback – June 6, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 314 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade; Reprint edition (June 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451218469
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451218469
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (314 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #867,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on May 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Writing historical fiction is a challenging endeavor. Not only does the author need to know how to do historical research-and actually do it-they must then construct an engaging story that will grab a reader who knows little about the era the story is set in. I once knew a fellow student who took an undergraduate historical research seminar with me just because she wanted to write historical fiction. She simultaneously was working on a master's degree in English. I couldn't understand why someone would think they needed so many classes just to write novels. Fortunately, writer John Shors seems to have conquered the techniques of this genre, as evidenced by his fascinating book "Beneath a Marble Sky: A Novel of the Taj Mahal." I cannot say I am an expert on Mughal India, having only covered it superficially in a couple of World Civilizations courses during my undergraduate career, but the story does jibe with what I remember about sixteenth and seventeenth century India. Obviously, Shors took substantial liberties with the finer points of his story, inventing many incidents and moving some of the places around, but the background information seems solid.
"Beneath a Marble Sky" is a story told in flashback by Jahanara, the favorite daughter of the Mughal leader Shah Jahan (ruled 1628-1658) and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Her early life is one of luxury and play tempered by a burgeoning sense of responsibility about her future role as a representative of a Muslim emperor ruling over a majority Hindu state. Even as she swims in the river with her brothers Dara and Aurangzeb, or gossips with her Hindu friend Ladli, Jahanara knows that one day she will marry someone of importance to the empire.
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Before I say anything else my strong recommendation is to resist the impulse to look at any history of the building of the Taj Mahal. I made the mistake of going on line to find some pictures of the Taj Mahal once I got to the point in John Shors' "Beneath a Marble Sky" where the grand mausoleum had been completed and instead of stopping at the photographs I glanced at what was known about the historical figures at the center of the novel and it gave away a major development. So do as I say and not as I do. Afterwards you can find the true events that weave their way through this exquisite first novel.

All that really matters when you pick up this novel is that you have seen a picture of the Taj Mahal (it is not like there is a bad one). It does not matter whether or not you know that it is a mausoleum or that it honors the Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal, because what is important is that if you have seen it you know the Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful buildings on the planet, a sublime mix of architectural magnificence and aesthetic beauty, and this historical romance is about how it came to be built. When the Taj Mahal is a tomb, then the great pyramids of Giza are reduced to just being piles of big blocks.

The narrator of "Beneath a Marble Sky" is Jahanara, the daughter of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and because Jahanara his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who tells her story and that of her family to her granddaughters, who are visiting the Taj Mahal for the first time. The tale begins when she was thirteen and beginning to appreciate how difficult it is to be a woman in a man's world. It seems she will be a spectator to both the great love between her parents and the contention between two of her brothers for her father's throne.
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I was so excited to get this book but was sorely disappointed within the first 20 pages. I do know a lot about the mogul empire and practices and I was shocked that the restrictions imposed by the harem were totally ignored by the author. Jahanarah was Begum Sahib, she would not have been allowed to leave the harem, nor would she have been allowed to be touched by anyone of a lower rank. Further, her mother the empress not only leaves the harem unveiled but touches men other than her husband, it just wouldn't have been done. Other errors pertain to Arjumand's heritage; (her aunt was Nur Jahan, empress to Emperor Jahangir) she was no common shop girl, and other major aspects that should have been researched.

Yes, this book is well written, with beautiful description and detail, but....

For someone who is not familiar with the Mogul empire and court this book will most likely be entreating and diverting, but for those who value a well researched historical fiction novel: Don't waste your time.
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When I read historical fiction, I want to feel that I am educating myself about a time in history. I understand the need to 'fill in the blanks,' but this author chose to totally change the facts. And the facts are compelling enough on their own to make a wonderful story. Furthermore, the characters are dimensionless. They are either really wonderful, pure, kind-hearted people or scathingly evil. At some points in the book, I felt the storyline was nothing short of gratuitously offensive. The male author has no ability to write from a female perspective and he apparently didn't bother to have it read by women to add that perspective. He has a bibliography at the end of the book and I find myself asking why. Did he think its inclusion would add legitimacy to his book? It seems pretty clear that he didn't spend much time reading any of the sources cited.

I have heard some say that they enjoyed it as a light beach read. If that is your criterion, perhaps this is a good choice. (Although even by that measuring stick I thought this fell very short.) However, if like me you expect historical fiction to have meat, do yourself a favor and skip this one.
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