Study Guide

Beneath a Marble Sky

By John Shors

Beneath a Marble Sky Introduction

When you look at the Taj Mahal, you might see a just magnificent travel destination—let's face it: the thing is an Instagrammer's dream. It's sculpted out of pure white marble, it's elaborately decorated with exquisite gems, and it's surrounded by lush gardens that would make a grown man cry.

Well, Beneath a Marble Sky is here to show you that the Taj Mahal is not just a tourist trap—it's a monument dedicated to the possibility of eternal love.

But wait, you might say. Isn't it a mausoleum? Since when do tombs epitomize relationships, and wouldn't that be kind of counterproductive, symbolically? Well, that's not the case with the Taj, a building meant to invoke the perfect beauty of a woman and also to honor the love between a Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, and his adored wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

This is not the stuff of legend, folks. The Taj Mahal really was commissioned by a guy who was so heartbroken after his beloved wife died trying to deliver their fourteenth (!!) child that he demanded one of the great wonders of the world built to house her remains. What is made up, though, is the story that John Shors crafted around the known history of the Taj Mahal to bring the creation of this architectural marvel to life.

As his debut novel, Shors published Beneath a Marble Sky in 2004 to great acclaim. His fans are always eager to share its excellent reviews, its place on bestseller lists, and the fact that ForeWord Magazine named it Book of the Year. They're also happy to share that Hollywood quickly bought the rights to develop it into a motion picture, although not much progress has been made in that direction yet.

But more importantly, Shors's novel about Shah Jahan's daughter Jahanara and her involvement with the construction of the Taj Mahal brings a well-known Indian story to the Western world. By fictionalizing things just a tad, he is able to make Jahanara more than just a historical figure prominently displayed on tapestries and paintings. Seeing the Taj rise from the dust of the Middle Eastern desert through her eyes gives life and context to the whole ordeal in a way that draws us in and refuses to let go.

So next time you're scrolling through Instagram and you see a photo of the Taj Mahal with six different filters and a Rumi quote slapped on top, you can smile knowingly to yourself, because you know all its secrets.

What is Beneath a Marble Sky About and Why Should I Care?

You may have noticed lately that everywhere you look, there's another historical fiction book or prime-time show garnering critical acclaim and devout fandoms. All you have to do is turn on the TV, or ride the subway, or stumble around Netflix for your next boredom-crushing binge-watching session, and you'll see a ton of medieval cosplay and costume dramas.

But if you gather them all together, you might notice something interesting: they all feature Western stories. Not "Western" as in cowboys 'n' Indians, but "Western" as in, well, European.

There's The White Queen and Poldark and Outlander, to name just a few British fandoms that have topped the charts. There's—of course—Game of Thrones, there's latest King Arthur adaptation, and there are so many British monarchy dramas that we can't keep them all straight (Royals, Tudors, you name it.) There's even a pirate sub-genre—Black Sails, anyone?—and...dare we mention the dreaded Johnny Depp saga that is so inexplicably successful? (No. We daren't.)

But one thing these shows all lack is cultural diversity. They all take place in what we consider the Western world. So it's about time that we turn our attention to the East and begin a journey to discover the lush history it provides, a history ripe for fictionalizing and romanticizing to our hearts' delight.

If you ask us, Beneath a Marble Sky is just waiting for its moment in the limelight. It's got love, it's got death, it's got siblings vying for a powerful throne. It's also go illicit affairs, religious conflict, graphic violence, epic battles, and heart-warming vignettes. And because it's set in what is now India, just think of the rich visual imagery: vibrant colors, luxurious settings—we mean, come on, the costuming would be to die for. The marketing possibilities are endless.

Honestly, we can't figure out why Hollywood hasn't jumped on this opportunity yet. There's a serious shortage of stories that don't feature a predominantly white cast, and we can't wait for the movie industry to catch up.

Until then, though, we'll always have our books.

Beneath a Marble Sky Resources

WEBSITES

John Shors: The Website
You're just not a bestselling author until you have your own official author page.

The Taj Mahal
Here's the official Taj Mahal tourism site. It's Got! A Lot! Of Unnecessary Exclamation Points!

MOVIE OR TV PRODUCTIONS

Beneath a Marble Sky: The Miniseries
It's in development, folks. Will they shoot it at the actual Taj Mahal?

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

"How Did You Write Such an Awesome Book?"
Sometimes the fawning adoration of Shors's fans can be a bit much, but this little interview answers most of our behind-the-scenes questions.

We Think She Liked It?
A review by India Today.

VIDEO

National Geographic's Secrets of The Taj Mahal
Can't talk about the Taj without consulting good old NatGeo, are we right?

Shors Speaks
"Oh, hello. You caught me sitting here reading my own book. Don't copy my pronunciation of 'Aurangzeb.'"

IMAGES

Gotta Get In One Pic of the Taj Mahal
It really is stunning, Shmoopers.

Jahanara Begum
The beauty of historical fiction is that Jahanara was a real person.

Jahanara and Her Father
Many artists tried their hands at depicting the two during their long imprisonment in the Red Fort.