The Dixie Diva Book Club July Selection is Beneath a Marble Sky by Johns Shors. This book is by far the best book we have read all year, and it is one of my all-time favorite book club selections. This book has been out since 2004, so it is not new, but it is a fantastic read. This book will definitely stay on my keeper shelf!
The book is historical fiction about the building of one of the Eight Wonders of the World: the Taj Mahal. In seventeenth Hundustan, the Emperor Shah Jahan is mourning the death of his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz, or Taj, died during a breech delivery. The emperor commissioned the building of the Taj Mahal as a monument to the love he and his wife shared. The empire would spare no expense in its construction. Shah and Taj's is not the love story depicted in the book, however. The actual love story surrounds Shah and Taj's amazing daughter, Princess Jahanara.
Possessing her mother's intelligence, courage, and ability to rule, Princess Jahanara takes her role in the empire as seriously as any of her brothers. Her father trusts her discernment, and she is one of his top advisors. Jahanara's brothers could not be any more different from each other. Dara, the idealistic intellectual and heir to the throne, wants to continue ruling the Hindu majority (the ruling family has been Muslim for generations) compassionately. He reads and translates Hindu texts, and he strives for both Muslims and Hindus to leave peacefully and respectfully together. Their brother Aurangzeb cares little for intellectual pursuits and is a Muslim extremist. He works his way up the military ranks and becomes a cruel despot.
As Princess Jahanara deals with mourning her mother and the increased animosity between her brothers, she falls in love, and her love must remain secret given her role in the empire. The entire book is told from Jahanara's point of view, and I applaud John Shors' ability to so effectively write from a strong female's point of view. Her thoughts about her love interest made me completely forget that a man wrote the book. I think he covered not only Jahanara's specific struggles but also issues universal to all women of all time periods, like the conflict between duty and identity. Some of the best scenes in the book were those between Jahanara and her best friend, Ladli. Ladli is a beautiful Hindu kitchen servant in the Red Fort where the Emperor and his family reside. For those of us who are not blessed enough to have a sister, girlfriends mean the wolrd to us. Ladli's love and sacrifice for Jahanara is so moving; she is one of my all-time favorite female sidekick characters.
I do not want to give away any spoilers, but if you like historical fiction and love stories, you must read Beneath a Marble Sky. Shors paints a vibrant picture of the decadent noble's lifestyles, warring tribes, and creative artisans of seventeenth century Hindustan. The book is the perfect balance of historical fact and fiction.
Until next time...