Placed over wide, sumptuous carpets of finely detailed golden vines or other motifs and illustrated with accomplished Indian-style miniatures, this lyrical account frames a touching tale of love and loss in magnificent visuals. Falling in love as teenagers, Prince Khurram and a court official’s daughter Arjumand courted in secret, and then after a glorious wedding went on to rule wisely and well as Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal until her death during childbirth in 1631. Obeying her deathbed wish that all the world know of their love, he built her the jeweled tomb that is still one of the world’s wonders. He too is buried there, as the separate, black tomb he planned for himself was never built. Historical summaries and other notes (including the admission that most of the story is based on legend, since Mughal rulers guarded their privacy), plus a short reading list, cap a story based in history, and as romantic as any in folklore.
Publishers Weekly, May 28, 2007 Starred Review
One of the world’s architectural wonders takes center stage in this exquisitely illustrated story about its history and lore. With abundant detail and poetic license, Arnold (The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers) and Comora (George Washington’s Teeth) recount the legendary love story behind the Taj Mahal (which means “crown palace”). Shah Jahan builds the spectacular monument to entomb and immortalize his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died at age 39 shortly after childbirth. An emperor in the Mughal Dynasty in 17th-century India, “Shah Jahan spared no expense. Pearl white marble was brought from quarries in Jodhpur… crystal came from China, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan… sapphires and quartz from the Himalayas.” Bhushan’s debut picture book’s extraordinary paintings echo the floral motifs and symmetry of the famous mausoleum. Intricate, narrow borders of tiny gold flowers within ribbons of ruby red or forest green surround and connect text boxes and illustrations. In several spreads, concentric borders give the impression of framed art. Larger floral- and pastoral-patterned backdrops in muted gold bleed off each page. The scenes themselves, which have a formal, portrait quality (many of the faces are flat and in profile), are filled tiny details, from jewels and luxuriously textured fabrics to elaborate battle dress. In the wedding parade scene, nearly a hundred individuals in miniature occupy a courtyard, each wearing a finely drawn costume. Facts about the royal family and the Taj Mahal, as well as a bibliography, wrap up this nonfiction narrative, though it’s the artwork throughout that is sure to amaze.