Part love story, part history lesson, and part introduction the culture of India in the 1600’s during the Great Mughal Empire, Sandra Wilson has done a fine job of weaving all of these elements into this historical novel. Rooted in historical fact Sandra adds her own layer fleshing out the personalities and frictions that are well documented historically, but obviously are without the actual dialog. As you might have guessed from the title this book at least in part concerns one of the great wonders of the world , the Taj Mahal, and the lady that inspired it’s construction.

Taj follows the fortunes of Shah Jahan and his very beautiful wife Mumtaz Mahal from their not so humble beginnings. It is told through the thoughts of Shah Jahan on his deathbed. As first son of Emperor Jahangir, Prince Khurram’s future seemed assured, he is almost guaranteed to eventually wear the ‘Royal Turban’ and be the next Grand Mughal. Unfortunately the current Empress has different ideas. Although the power of the empire eminates from from the Emperor, the real power comes from the woman behind the scenes, Nur Jahan, and she is unwilling to relinquish her control over India. 

The young Prince Khurram through an arranged marriage becomes the husband to the very beautiful Mumtaz Mahal, and so starts a love affair that transcends even his beloved wifes death. Here is a hint, Khurram’s pet name for his wife was Taj, and I’ll just bet you can’t guess the name of the mausoleum built to honor her? 

The young prince and princess find that life is not a bed of roses, behind the scenes Nur Jahan is gradually poisoning Khurram’s image in the mind of the Emperor, which results in a huge rift between father and son.

There is much more to this story than I can cover in a review. I have to admit that I learned a great deal about the Mughal Empire, and I also discovered a great deal of historical fact. A friend of mine is an avid cyclist and has bicycled across India on more than one occasion. His version of the Taj Mahal story was identical to the one in the book, with one minor exception. He claimed that while the Taj Mahal is the most magnificent structure he had ever seen, and that from sunrise to sunset the Taj Mahal changes colors, and changes moods, Agra itself is a dump! Assuming Sandra Wilson agrees to an interview I will ask her about that.

I really enjoyed this well researched and flawlessly put together book. Maybe the best parts are the incredibly small things. There is a list of the characters and their position in society which makes the story much easier to put into context, and a two page glossary of terms, words that we in the west may not readily understand (who knows what a Zenana is?). My favorite extra though is the very simple, but very well done line drawings that pepper the book.

Sandra Wilson has a great web site supporting this book. 

Simon Barrett   

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