Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Best Book of the Summer: Beneath a Marble Sky

This is the book I haven't been able to get off my mind since I finished it: Beneath a Marble Sky by John Schors. It's a historical novel about the building of the Taj Mahal. Mike and I were fortunate to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal way back in September 1989, and after having read this book, I wish we'd spent more time there and knew more about its legend at the time.

The book, exquisitely written by the way, tells the story of Princess Jahanara, the daughter of Mumtaz Mahal. She is married off to an abusive husband in a political arranged marriage, but when her mother dies, her father arranges for her to be the court liaison to the principal architect, and she eventually becomes his lover. Jahanara (and her mother and daughter) are feisty, intelligent, strong women. They are respected by the enlightened men around them and abused and dishonored by the others. Jahanara's brother Aurangzeb forcibly takes the throne from her father, and the empire is thrown into uproar. Although much of the story is based on history and legend and the author fictionally expands on what is factually known, Mumtaz Mahal was recorded to be the emperor's favorite wife and she often ventured to battle with him--not your average submissive wife of the period!

I found the story especially interesting because it was a period of Islamic rule in India and before Aurangzeb assumed the throne, it was a relatively peaceful period between Muslims and Hindus.
If you enjoy stories of strong, interesting women in other cultures, you'll enjoy this book. If you have been to India and have been lucky enough to see one of the NEW SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD, you'll get even more out of it.

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