Excerpt from Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Beneath a Marble Sky

by John Shors

Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2004, 325 pages
    Jun 2006, 352 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Part 1

The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they’re in each other all along.

In the early days, when I was still an innocent girl, my father believed in perfection.

Once, musing over his empire, contemplating the splendor he had created, he composed a poem. On the vaulted ceiling above his Peacock Throne he had an artist inscribe in gold, "If there is a paradise on the face of the Earth, it is this, it is this, it is this." Simple words from a simple man. But how true they were.

Sunrise over the Yamuna River has often prompted me to think of Paradise. From the broad shoulders of the waterway I have cherished the sights before me as I might cherish the face of my lover. This morning’s views are as inspiring as ever, especially after having been away in hiding for so long. To my right sprawls the magnificent Red Fort. Opposite, awash in the sun’s blood, stands the Taj Mahal, neither soaring as a falcon might, nor cresting like the sea. Rather, the mausoleum arches upward, strong and noble, a gateway to the heavens. Knowing that the Taj Mahal was built for my mother is among my greatest joys, and my most profound sorrows.

Today, I am not alone. My guardian, Nizam, patiently rows our boat across the Yamuna. Behind our craft’s bow sit my two granddaughters, Gulbadan and Rurayya. No longer girls, each is a wondrous incarnation of my daughter. Looking at them, I think that time has moved too swiftly, that just yesterday I was stroking the soles of their diminutive, untested feet. My love for my granddaughters is even stronger now than it was then. When I see them I feel as if I’m moving forward into places harboring no regrets, no memories to remind me of my scars, those thick welts upon my mind and body.

Gulbadan and Rurayya giggle, whispering as young women do—of the men who strut before them, of the dreams they encounter. When I was their age my emotions were more closely guarded. On the surface I acted much the same, but within the thick shields of my defenses dwelt more troubled thoughts, thoughts often dominated by a yearning for acceptance, a need to feel worthy.

One of the few people ever to glimpse my insecurities was Nizam, who now propels us to the far bank, away from the prying ears about the Taj Mahal. A banyan tree perches at the river’s edge, its tendrils kissing the water. To me, banyan trees resemble giant spiders, their branches falling straight to the ground like legs. Nizam ties our boat to a limb that plunges below the ripples, then nods to me. This confirms what I’m thinking—that we’re isolated and quite safe here, safe enough for Gulbadan and Rurayya to hear the story of how they came into being.

The tale has never been told.

"My darlings," I begin, loosening the sash that bites into my stomach. "Your parents brought you to Agra, and asked me to travel here, because they believe you’re old enough to be entrusted with a story." I pause, my eyes seeking theirs. My will at this moment is stronger than my emotions, and I force my voice to harden. "Are they mistaken?"

Gulbadan, the eldest, toys with a silver ring, which is as gouged as the planks of this decrepit boat. "What do you mean, Jaha?"

"I mean, can you keep a secret? Or are you like magpies on a water buffalo’s back, chatting away when hawks are about?"

"But why must we be so careful?"

"Because, child, like any woman who has defied men, I have enemies. And such foes would pay dearly for this knowledge. With it, they would see to your undoing, as would the Emperor."

"The Emperor?" Gulbadan asks, her ring forgotten. "Surely we can’t concern him."

From Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors. Copyright 2004 John Shors. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...
  • Book Jacket: All Our Wrong Todays
    All Our Wrong Todays
    by Elan Mastai
    You need a great deal of time to read All Our Wrong Todays, but don't let that put you off. ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Mercies in Disguise
    by Gina Kolata

    A story of hope, a family's genetic destiny, and the science that rescued them.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

A million monkeys...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -