The story takes place in 17th century India, during the reign of the Emperor Shah Jahan, which was followed by the reign of his son Aurangjab, (then called Alamgir) who imprisons his own father when he falls ill. This, then, is the story of the construction of the mausoleum known as the Taj Mahal, built by the Emperor for his wife, the Empress Arjumand, to honor her memory. The basic historic facts are true, but to enable the author to tell the story behind the building of one of the most magnificent wonders of the world, another story had to be created to house these facts. That story is the fictional love story between his daughter Jahanara and her secret love, Isa, the architect responsible for building the mausoleum, which is a decade long endeavor.
The Emperor Shah Jahan rules Hindustan. He dwells in a palace in The Red Fort, which is a community that encompasses all they need for security and survival. He sits on his jeweled, magnificent Peacock Throne in his palace, where he lives with his harem, his beloved third wife and his children; favorite among the children are Dara, son and heir to the throne who wishes to make Muslims and Hindus more equal, who is more of a student than strongman, Jahanara, a daughter with the beauty, intelligence and strength of her mother, from whom he often seeks counsel after the death of his beloved wife and Aurangjab who is militarily strong but weak with regard to compassion and tolerance. Power is in the hands of the Muslims, who occupy the throne, and the Hindus were, therefore, at their mercy, although they were greater in number.
In the fictional story, the Princess Jahanara, who is a Muslim, has as her closest friend a devoted Hindu girl, Ladli, a palace servant. This servant/friend risks her life for her, time and again, as she helps Jahanara in her attempt to thwart the evil, murderous efforts of her brother Aurangjab, who wants to rule, although he has not been chosen.
The Emperor arranges a marriage match for Jahanara with a wicked, abusive Muslim, far older than she is, for political and economic purposes, in order to strengthen and maintain the empire. Jahanara knows it is her duty to protect the regime and willingly, if not happily, acquiesces to the wishes of her parents. (In reality, Jahanara never marries and bears no children. She is not a wife, mother or grandmother.) He had believed that her betrothed was honorable and later apologized for his error and smiles upon her illicit love affair with Isa.
This engaging tale is based on the true history of the construction of the Taj Mahal, and wherever possible, accurate information is presented. At times, the line between fact and fiction is cloudy, but the amazing story of the rise of this magnificent edifice, becomes real as the dual love story unfolds, the one true, the deep love of the emperor for his wife, and the other that is made up out of whole cloth and is about the everlasting and enduring love of Jahanara and Isa. It is passionate without the trite eroticism employed by lesser writers. It evokes deep emotion and identification with the characters. Some may be moved to tears when the sacrifices and suffering of the characters is revealed.
This is, therefore, a tale about the construction of a masterpiece joined with a love story that is coupled with the internal family fight for power, for the rule of a kingdom, pitting brother against brother and sister against brother and vice versa. It is a story that has been repeated historically, time and time again, in fact and in fiction.