Henna artist Lakshmi arranges for her protégé, Malik, to intern at the Jaipur Palace in this tale rich in
character, atmosphere, and lavish storytelling.
It’s the spring of 1969, and Lakshmi, now married to Dr Jay Kumar, directs the Healing Garden in
Shimla. Malik has finished his private school education. At twenty, he has just met a young woman
named Nimmi when he leaves to apprentice at the Facilities Office of the Jaipur Royal Palace. Their
latest project: a state-of-the-art cinema.
Malik soon finds that not much has changed as he navigates the Pink City of his childhood. Power
and money still move seamlessly among the wealthy class, and favours flow from Jaipur’s Royal
Palace, but only if certain secrets remain buried. When the cinema’s balcony tragically collapses on
opening night, blame is placed where it is convenient. But Malik suspects something far darker and
sets out to uncover the truth. As a former street child, he always knew to keep his own counsel; it’s a
lesson that will serve him as he untangles a web of lies.
When I started The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi I hadn’t realized it was the sequel to her first book The Henna Artist and I became worried I would lose something important in the story having not read the first book. I was partly right, but I am glad to say, I both enjoyed the story and the characters.
The Secret Keeper Of Jaipur is a novel that brings to life a world and culture very few of us have any experience of, India, in all of its glorious complexity. I felt that if I closed my eyes just for a moment, I could imagine stepping out of its pages into 1950s India. Streets full of colour, where power and poverty, honesty and corruption, secrets and lies, mix together in a sumptuous tale about love and family.
So many books lack a sense of place and having watched the BBCs adaption of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, I wanted the same connection with India within The Secret Keeper of Jaipur and I am happy to say, I was granted my wish. She brings to life not just the culture in which Malik and Lakshmi live and work, but creates a tapestry, that weaves together a story that is complex, exciting and also uplifting. She pitches corrupt officials against her two main characters, but does so in such a way, that it manages to feel both light in touch, but complex in the story we are reading.
Both Malik the former street child and Lakshmi are wonderful characters, who are easy to love. They are written in such a way that you can imagine them walking the streets of Jaipur with little effort. Malik’s past has created a young man who knows that keeping your own counsel is both a safety net and a survival mechanism and it makes him the perfect character to solve the mystery behind the collapse of the stunning new cinema and the subsequent search for those responsible, because he understands corruption and greed, but is willing to stand up against it. His guide and mentor Lakshmi, having been part of this world and having experienced how it rejects and judges those that they deem to have stepped out of their ‘place’, is willing to fight to protect those she loves and she is quietly magnificent. Both can work across cultural divides, having lived briefly within both and they work within this story, because of that. Even those characters we deem dishonest, are multi layered and capable of redemption and as a result the story feels vibrant, with a touch of realism that runs throughout the story. The broad cast of characters creating a story that you find yourself lost within and enjoying, because they are so rich and diverse.
Weaving in sections of their past, it almost doesn’t matter that I had not read The Henna Artist, because she fills in the gaps for me, without disrupting the storyline. I still think I should have read the first book, but you don’t have to and you will still love this one. Yet part of me feels that The Secret Keeper of Jaipur would have been an even more enjoyable read, if I had read the Henna Artist first. So my recommendation is you by both, because I can’t help feeling, you are going to love them.
About the author
Alka Joshi is a graduate of Stanford University and received her MFA from the California College of the Arts. She has worked as an advertising copywriter, a marketing consultant and an illustrator. Alka was born in India, in the state of Rajasthan. Her family moved to the USA when she was nine, and she now lives on California’s Monterey Peninsula with her husband and two misbehaving pups. The Secret Keeper of Jaipur is her second novel.
Visit her website and blog at http://www.thehennartist.com