Beneath a Marble Sky

( 79 )

Overview

Journey to dazzling seventeenth-century Hindustan, where the reigning emperor, consumed with grief over the tragic death of his beloved wife, commissioned the building of a grand mausoleum as a testament to the marvel of their love. This monument would soon become known as the Taj Mahal—a sight famous around the world for its beauty and the emotions it symbolizes.

Princess Jahanara, the courageous daughter of the emperor and his wife, recounts their mesmerizing tale, while ...

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Overview

Journey to dazzling seventeenth-century Hindustan, where the reigning emperor, consumed with grief over the tragic death of his beloved wife, commissioned the building of a grand mausoleum as a testament to the marvel of their love. This monument would soon become known as the Taj Mahal—a sight famous around the world for its beauty and the emotions it symbolizes.

Princess Jahanara, the courageous daughter of the emperor and his wife, recounts their mesmerizing tale, while sharing her own parallel story of forbidden love with the celebrated architect of the Taj Mahal. Set during a time of unimaginable wealth and power, murderous sibling rivalries, and cruel despotism, this impressive novel sweeps you away to a historical Hindustan brimming with action and intrigue in an era when, alongside the brutalities of war and oppression, architecture and the art of love and passion reached a pinnacle of perfection.

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Editorial Reviews

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. (May 28) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
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.-Kim Uden Rutter, Antioch, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A woman's take on the famous monument as the Emperor's daughter recalls her part in its construction and her survival through treachery and war. With lively period detail and a surfeit of villains, the story that Princess Jahanara reveals to her two granddaughters is a hyperactive saga where plot trumps insight. Now an old woman, Jahanara, thinking it time to tell the two girls the truth about their lineage, returns to the past to explain why they have been kept ignorant of their imperial connections. Her childhood was happy; her mother, Mumtaz Mahal, was not only adored by her father, the Emperor Shah Jehan, but she was frequently consulted in matters of state. She was especially close to Jahanara, with whom she shared her insights into statecraft, but when she died in childbirth, the family began to disintegrate. Jehan's grief was such that he failed to discipline son Aurangzeb, a brutal warmonger who resented brother Dara, the presumptive heir, and allowed Jahanara to marry Khondamir, a coarse and abusive trader. Obsessed with building a memorial to his wife, Jehan began the construction of the Taj Mahal on the banks of the nearby river. Soon Jahanara is not only helping with the construction but is in love with the architect, Isa. Contrite about her unhappy marriage, the Emperor encourages her to have a secret affair with Isa, and she bears a daughter, Arjumand. But the times are dangerous, and Aurangzeb is not only an ambitious, religious bigot but especially suspicious of Jahanara, whom he fears wants to kill him. He imprisons Jahanara and her father, the Emperor, in the Red Fort; Isa and Arjumand flee, only to be enslaved by a rival sultan; and Jahanara is raped in prison bytreacherous Khondamir. Wars and betrayals are commonplace as Aurangzeb fights to consolidate his succession, and Jahanara must endure much travail before she finds a safe haven. An overly action-packed debut, but agreeably colorful nonetheless.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780929701974
  • Publisher: McPherson & Company
  • Publication date: 5/28/2013
  • Sales rank: 92,842
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John Shors

John Shors traveled extensively throughout Asia after graduating from Colorado College in 1991, living for several years in Japan, where he taught English, and then trekking across the continent, visiting ten countries and climbing the Himalayas. More recently, Mr. Shors worked as a newspaper reporter in his hometown, Des Moines, Iowa, before entering public relations and moving to Boulder, Colorado. Beneath a Marble Sky is his first novel.

Biography

Published in 2004, John Shors' debut novel, Beneath a Marble Sky, was a major hit with critics from the start. An ambitious romance chronicling the lives of Emperor Shah Jahan the creator of the Taj Mahal, the wife for whom he built the legendary palace, and their daughter who falls in love with its architect, Beneath a Marble Sky was hailed as a major debut by publications ranging from the Des Moines Register to the India Post. Still, Shors' labor of love was not exactly soaring off of bookstore shelves. That's when the young author devised a radical, and radically personal, method of generating the kind of sales Beneath a Marble Sky deserved.

"I came up with the idea of putting the letter in the back of the paper back, with my e-mail address, and inviting book clubs to invite me to their evenings," Shors told CBS News. Soon enough, Shors was receiving scores of requests to visit local book clubs and speak about his novel. He also discovered that sales of Beneath a Marble Sky were on the rise. By November of 2006, Shors had visited over 200 clubs and was booked for many more through 2008.

Such ambition may be unusual in the world of publishing, but it is hardly new to Shors. Prior to penning Beneath a Marble Sky, he had traveled to Asia after years of studying creating writing and English at Colorado College. For three years, he taught English in Kyoto, Japan, but never able to remain still for long, he decided to exit his teaching post to backpack across the continent. Shors tramped through ten countries and scaled the mythic Himalayas in Nepal, but it was a 1999 sojourn in India that really altered the path of his life. "Seeing the wonder of the Taj Mahal, and understanding that a man built it for his wife -- a woman he cherished above all else in life -- was uniquely inspiring," Shors confided to Washington Independent Writers.org. "Indian poets have been writing about this love story for centuries. And yet, not many people in the West know the tale. I realized that I had to tell it. Quite honestly, I was amazed and delighted to discover upon my return to America that no one in the West had ever fictionalized the story."

Words such as "vivid" and "colorful" have been used to describe the epic that Shors' visit to the Taj Mahal inspired. Beneath a Marble Sky follows the life of Shah Jahan as he has the palace built for Mumtaz Mahal and they raise a bright girl named Jahanara, who not only learns the ins and outs of political thought from her father but also inherits is sense of romance. She ultimately falls in love with Isa the architect in charge of constructing the Taj Mahal and a man she is forbidden to wed.

Now that Shors is on the road again (of course, this time he is traversing America rather than exotic Asia), Beneath a Marble Sky is steadily becoming as much of a hit with readers as it had been with critics since its publication. The novel went on to average sales of 1,000 copies a week. Although he has quite a full plate with his numerous book club obligations, he is still managing to find time to begin work on his second novel. Despite such a daunting schedule, the ever-energetic Shors is marching ahead with typical gusto, enthusing to CBS News: "I'm excited to do so."

Good To Know

Shortly after its publication, Beneath a Marble Sky fell into the hands of actor Eriq La Salle, former star of TV's E.R. and currently head of a production company called Humble Journey Films. Shors told Washington Independent Writers.org. that La Salle's company "is very serious about making Beneath a Marble Sky into a major movie. They are making great progress and I'm cautiously optimistic that they'll pull it off."

Beneath a Marble Sky is both a book about world culture and a book that encourages world culture in a very practical way. Shors has arranged to donate a portion of the sales of his novel to the Children's International Summer Villages (CISV) a nonprofit organization promoting cultural understanding among people around the globe.

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Shors:

"I've been lucky enough to travel to five continents and many countries."

"While I am a perfectionist when it comes to my writing (I edited Beneath a Marble Sky 56 times), I am a bit of a slob around the house."

"I cannot stand the feel of cotton balls, and our little girl constantly torments me by rubbing them against my skin."

"I'd like my readers to know that I sincerely and profoundly appreciate their support. The success of Beneath a Marble Sky has given me a great gift, and I hope to repay this gift by creating powerful novels for years to come. Additionally, if any reader has a particular question for me, I'll be delighted to answer her or his question. I can be reached at shors@aol.com and I'll happily write back to anyone who contacts me."

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    1. Hometown:
      Boulder, Colorado
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 4, 1969
    2. Place of Birth:
      Des Moines, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Colorado College, 1991
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 79 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(57)

4 Star

(13)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 79 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2007

    Beautiful and breathtaking!

    Since Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha and Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring, I have been on a constant search for a romantic historical novel written with depth, poetic language, a female protagonist, and an antropologic view of a foreign society. This epic novel exceeds expectations in all of the categories - when I finished it, I felt as if the character development was flawless, non-cliche and I learned [although this is not a textbook in any way] a lot about 1600's Indian society. This book is outstanding. STRONGLY recommended.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2007

    Good fiction reading but short on facts

    Shors has done a good job of the storyline though some parts of his depitcion are flawed. The depiction of some of the women characters is inaccurate and shows a lack of understanding of the workings of the Mughal court. Women irrespective of their influence on the Emperors had to remain in the Zenana and they were never seen by the court or public. Shors in the initial chapters of the book writes about Mumtaz Mahal walking by like a 20th/21st. century Executive offering her opinions in the court as if it was a boardroom. In reality, if she did have an opinion, the most she could have done was to share it with the Emperor in private. Shores seems to forget at different times in his novel that he is wrting about royals in the 16th./17th century, not a modern saga. On the whole an interesting read if you ignore the inaccuracies or are not familiar with Indian History. Shores needs to synch up with MR. William Darymple to get some help in reseatching his facts for his next novel.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 28, 2010

    One of The BEST Books I HAve Read

    I read this amazing book recently and have to say it is among the top books I have read. I truly felt I was on this wonderful journey with the characters and saw the Taj Mahal being built. It was such a great love story between Jahanara, the youngest daughter of Sha Jahan and Isa, the architect of the Taj Mahal and the visuals laid out in the book were remarkable.
    I did not want the book to end because I wanted to read more about the Taj Mahal. If there was anything missing for me it was that there weren't pictures in the book showing the beauty of this part of Hindustan and the Taj Mahal.
    I sent an email to the author, John Shors after reading this book to tell him how much I enjoyed reading it and I was pleasantly surprised to receive a response to my email. He was gracious and thanked me for letting him know how much I enjoyed his book.

    I have definitely recommended this to my friends.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2010

    Beautiful story

    This is a believable story of forbidden romance. John Shors includes everything in this book: romance, danger, sadness, happiness, suspense, and intrigue. The plot flows well and spans over decades. It tells a tale of the forbidden love between the architect of the Taj Mahal and a princess of India. I loved the attention to detail and the beautiful imagery painted by Shors' words. The events in the story are not over the top, but are believable. "Beneath a Marble Sky" is a page turner and I could not put the book down. Parts of the book are more adult oriented in nature, but even those parts are tastefully written. Overall, I loved this book and would highly recommend reading it to anyone who loves historical, romantic, thrilling, suspenseful, and believable novels.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Fabulous Love Story

    This is a story about true love, ones duty, perseverance, and more. It is so engrossing I couldn't put it down. I have given it as a gift to several friends, all of whom loved it. It will stay on my bookshelf forever - It's one I could re-read and not tire of it. So compelling!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The strength and beauty of the Taj Mahal, matched by the women who inspired it.

    I could not! put this fantastic novel down for three days. It found me at a local used bookstore (sorry B&N!), and I was captivated from the first sentence. Shors graces us with not only a beautiful story, beautiful scenery, and beautiful characters, but also with strong women. Each charter lives her/his own life, making decisions that lead them down paths that they were meant to travel. It is historical fiction, and Shors points out that he is making that artistic leap of faith in several regards. It works because Shors connects the reality of the Taj Mahal, in all its splendor and all its incredible building materials and manpower, to its designer and women of inspiration, to the human condition. Yes, the human condition. Historical fiction does not work if the characters are not sufficiently credible to appear real throughout every page of the book. I laughed. I cried. This book made my impossible to make bookshelf. It is a keeper, it will be reread. Bravo Mr. Shors!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Love Story Like I have never Read

    Beautifully written Shors captures us with Jahanara's sense of duty and love for her family. I was actually surprised at how perceptive he was to the female's point of view on how far a woman would go to protect and honor those she loves. This book although fiction hit home for me on many of my own beliefs and I enjoyed immensely going through the motions as Jahanara was faced with her most difficult decisions. I think this is the perfect book for a readers club.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Story!

    I really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it to my friends and family.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Quick Read, Hard to Put Down

    I read this novel in the span of a day. I just couldn't put it down! At times, you will cry, others, you will laugh, and sometimes even cringe at the hardships the characters must overcome to find peace in the end. I must say that Aurangzeb truly frightened me, and that the vivid painting of the Taj Mahal brought it before my eyes in all of its splendor, as if I was witnessing its birth. Wonderful book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Beneath a Marble Sky

    I enjoyed this book. It is a quick read and a nice story. It reminded me of the Red Tent, which I loved.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

    What an Adventure

    The heroine is strong and determined in the face of old traditions and loyalty to family.

    A look into a world of brutality and deep emotions, betrayal, friendship and love.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    a wonderful escape to a fascinating time period

    I was swept away by the story and could not put the book down once I got into it. Truly amazing how the male author captured the feelings and thoughts of a young female narrator. He is to be commended not only for the beautiful story but also for making us forget that the author is a man.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Believe the Reviews!

    I bought this book by the reviews and they lived up to their description. This book was wonderful. The characters caught my attention right away, as did the story. It was the first time I read anything about this time frame so I am not judging the history. It was great to find a new author, I look forward to reading his next book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Very interesting

    I really enjoyed this book. I fell in love with the characters and the story right away. The author did a great job recreating the times, not that I knew exactly how things were, but he made it very believable. His extensive research on the subject shows and even though I recognize that the story is considered fiction, it made the The Taj Mahal that much more real and beautiful to me. There is a lot of tragedy in this book, however, it is still very much a story about love, hope, and a sense of duty for the common good.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2007

    The best novel I read in 2007!

    I could not have enjoyed this book any more. It is an amazing story--one that made me laugh and cry, and one that I will always remember. This fine novel was recommended to me by several friends, and I can see why. It is simply fanastic. If you're interested in the beautiful story behind the Taj Mahal, or just wonderful writing, this book is for you. Beneath a Marble Sky is the best book that I read in 2007. No doubt about it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    Highly recommended.

    I would definitely read more by this author. This book is a great choice for book club discussions.

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  • Posted June 19, 2012

    Why are people rating this one 5 stars? I found it totally pred

    Why are people rating this one 5 stars? I found it totally predictable and preposterous. The characters and plot seem to have been lifted from a far better story, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. You can clearly see how the author set up the story for a sequel, which is fine as he is in the business of selling books. I was just not impressed.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Very well written

    I recommend this if you enjoy reading books of different cultures. I felt I was there at the time the Taj Majal was built. Very romantic.

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  • Posted April 20, 2010

    Nice story, bad writing

    Beyond the sweeping storyline in this girl-overcomes-obstacles-to-find-true-love story, there really isn't much to it. The writing is plain and unremarkable, and one is left feeling somewhat distanced from the characters. A little like reading a book written for tweens, "Beneath A Marble Sky" kept dragging on, with the protagonist meeting one seemingly unsurmountable obstacle after another. But of course she always comes out on top. Because it wouldn't be a sweeping epic if she didn't.

    I didn't like this book because the writing style was so juvenile. It made it very hard to get into the plot because I was too busy reading the same "big" words again and again. I may try reading another of Shors' books, to see if I read the bad apple first, but in general I would not recommend this book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Not my cup of tea

    when I fist started reading this book I couldn't put it down. The book is intersting will the charatcers are young but after that mnay of thier actions seem to be foolish. The evil brother seemed to be most thougt out character. Fomr the start you can see how nasty he is. Even when he tires to crush little fish in the river where they bathe

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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