This book is a work of historical fiction, and is based upon the remarkable story behind the creation of the Taj Mahal.
Beneath a Marble Sky
New American Library (2006)
Reviewed by for Reader Views (5/06)
It's simply not often you find a story that touches you so deeply that you truly weep on its pages. But remember, not all crying is sadness. This book takes you through the lives of a Royal Family and it is truly so profound that you find yourself lost in its pages. You will find yourself holding your breath, crying for joy and sobbing for the losses you feel. You truly become one with the book and the book is written with such profoundness that you cannot help but feel every ounce of emotion involved in the story.
While it is a book of fiction, it is also firmly based on the truth of history. Many aspects of life in Asia (India, Persia, etc.) are so true to life that you cannot help but become encompassed by the life style and ways.
It begins with the Emperor's daughter, Jahara, telling her story of love and war, life and death. It tells of her family and how one evil, heartless brother can change their world. And most enthralling of all, it tells the story of the Taj Mahal (one of the eight Wonders of the World) being constructed, as an everlasting sign of the love Jahara’s father had for her mother.
The author is quick to point out that while his story is based on fact, it is definitely a work of fiction. People debate to this day as to the length of time it took to build the Taj Mahal and who the head Architect was that was in charge of the project itself. While the story of the reason behind the Taj Mahal has been something told over and over in Asia, the Western World has heard very little of the intimate love story involved. The author brings this age old traditional tale to the Western World in a way that simply amazes you from the very first page.
Jahara tells the story of her life and history to her own grandchildren, in order to hopefully bring her Empire back to the greatness it once was. As her granddaughters have come of age they are given the responsibility of a secret well hidden for many years, as they grew up never knowing they were of royalty. Jahara begins at the very beginnings of her father's love for her mother, as he meets her in a bead shop and instantly falls in love. Being of royalty he cannot marry beneath him and knows that he must follow the rules he has been born into, but simply will not let this rest. His father gives in to this desire in the end, and with many rules and deals, decides that his son may marry the woman he loves so very much if he abides by what the father needs him to do before the marriage. Waiting 5 years, they finally get to marry and from that day forth never separate again until death. She tells of the births of her siblings and herself, of the moments she stole with her parents, seeing their undeniable love for each other. She tells of the ways of the Empire and royalty in that time and of how women were simply second class citizens. Yet somehow, her father was wise well beyond his years and saw the importance of his women's minds and abilities. This insight allowed him to rule his kingdom in near bliss until his oldest son becomes a horrible threat, not only to the kingdom but to the happiness of the family.
The author somehow tells of every minor detail of the life of a princess in India with such intensity you wonder how he can not truly be the princess herself. He tells of friendships, so loyal that you cannot believe and of love so profound it stands the test of not only time but hatred and sabotage. He shows how easy it is to give up your own desires and dreams, simply to make others happy. He shows how love can be everlasting and hatred can eat a person's mind away, creating unhappiness so profound it borders insanity. He shows all of this through the wise eyes of princess growing up and growing old.
It is very rare that you will find a book this intense, this fulfilling and this intriguing. By the end of this wonderful story not only had I laughed, cried and held my breath but I was so intrigued with the ways and lives of Asia that I began to delve into investigating the Taj Mahal itself. After reading the book, you no longer see just a building of extreme beauty... you see so much more.
Truly one of the best reads of 2006 and hopefully for years to come as I think everyone of every age would benefit from reading this historical fiction. My teenage daughter heard about the story and immediately staked claims on the book, the minute I finished. It can intrigue males and females, teens and adults. It's simply filled with so much knowledge that you walk away a changed person. And in the end, you will wonder if you are as strong as you thought. Could you end up the way this beautiful princess did? Could you make the same choices so easily? You will dream of India in a whole new way, even without a plane ticket there. Lucky for us, we can go there through the eyes of a princess and see the Taj Mahal in a way many never will. Don't miss the opportunity to see the world from a whole new perspective.