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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Review: The Secret Keeper of Jaipur

Title: The Secret Keeper of Jaipur

Author: Alka Joshi 

Publisher: 28th July 2021 by HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 329 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, women’s fiction, cultural - India

My Rating: 5 crowns


In New York Times bestselling author Alka Joshi’s intriguing new novel, 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 favors 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.

My Thoughts

‘There are so many secrets in our world, aren’t there? Ones we keep, ones we reveal, but only at the right moments.’

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur is the second in a series and, although I had not read The Henna Artist, this book was easily read as a standalone. Told through several points of view it provides such a wondrous view of life in India with its rich culture and the politics of the 1960s. For those who have read the first book, this instalment takes place twelve years from where The Henna Artist left off. 

Firstly, this is a fascinating tale - everything from architecture in the city to sheep herding in the countryside. To accompany each of these is a mystery involving a collapsed building and gold smuggling. The author provides a cross section from Indian society - from the Royal Maharani to Himalayan herders. These characters are both engaging and believable, each with their own tale to tell. 

‘I feel hollow - like a reed before the henna paste fills its core. I don’t know what to say, or what to think. I can neither speak, nor move.’

Alka Joshi writes such lyrical prose that transports you to all the sights, sounds and smells from India (there are even recipes at the end of the book).  Whether you are visiting the Maharani or herding sheep on the Himalayan hillside, Alka deftly conveys all the vivid and majestic scenery. She is inclusive of all the riches and yet also the great poverty that exists. 

‘I’m looking out the window, enjoying the choreographed chaos of the city: a lipsticked hijra on her way to the market, slim hips swaying; a wagon drawn by a bony laborer carrying old tractor tires; children flicking marbles on a dusty street corner - what Malik liked to do once upon a time in Jaipur.’

This was a beautifully written tale that has wonderful characters, an engaging and mysterious plot and all set against an exotic Indian backdrop. I look forward to reading more from these family and friends with their stories of love, loyalty and fresh starts. 

Visit Helen @ Great Reads & Tea Leaves

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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