The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi

“Namaste, Bonjour, Welcome!” 

Madho shrieks from his cage to let us all know that Alka Joshi has a new book coming out June 22nd!

Hai Shiva! He's jealous I have an advanced copy.

Thanks to the folks at HarperCollins, I'm holding an ARC of The Secret Keeper of Jaipur in my hands, and I am absolutely thrilled to dive right in. 

As with The Henna Artist, I love that Alka Joshi introduces all the characters at the beginning of the book. Having just read the first instalment, I was excited to connect with everyone again.

For the past month, I’ve found myself starved of gossip from the streets of Jaipur and the foothills of the Himalayas. I'm wondering what Lakshmi, Jay and little Malik are up to. Thinking of Parvati, draped in luxurious silk saris, gossiping like the queen bee of the Pink City. And I just can't get Manu, Kanta, and wee Niki off my mind, hoping those three are thriving as a unit.

I now no longer have to wait, as here I am, holding The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, connecting with my friends 12 years in the future. Even that little rascal Madho the parakeet is back.

Ibrahim Rifath, Unsplash

Highlighting the main characters, and the roles they play, as well as the translations of regularly used Indian phrases at the beginning of the book is extremely helpful for the reader, especially for someone who's picking up the book for the first time.

For me, it was delightful to see the progressions of each character as I moved through the book, especially mischievous Malik. 

I’m always happy to read books that are set in India, having spent several months there a few years ago. I spent most of my time in Rishikesh, at the Foothills of the Himalayas, about a 7-hour drive from Shimla, where Lakshmi, Jay, and Malik are currently living.

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Reading about the country brings back so many memories for me; the people, colours, culture, foods, hospitality. 

Furthermore, my heart is warmed when I think of India. It holds a special place in my heart. I connect the visual memories to close unbreakable bonds with some friends that I met there who ultimately changed the course of my life. I often say, “well if I haven’t of gone to India, I wouldn’t be here today.” 

India is a place I’ll treasure for the rest of my life, and hopefully some time I can visit again when we get through this mess we’re currently living in. 

I absolutely adore the visual descriptors that Alka Joshi gives us in The Secret Keeper of Jaipur. Right from the first moments, when we meet a new character, Nimmi, with her kids Rekha and Chullu, huddled together along the road at the Shimla Mall market, selling flowers packed with natural healing properties. I held a strong image of the three of them in my mind, Nimmi, a natural beauty in her stunning tribal regalia, with a stall between the balloon maker and Coca-Cola vendor. 

It’s important for me to visualize as I’m reading a book often becoming attached to certain characters, imagining them to exist in my subconscious. Joshi does a stunning job of bringing her characters to life through her imaginative and expressive prose. 

Malik, now named Abbas Malik (Abbas meaning Lion, a name bestowed upon him by Lakshmi), is still as close as ever to his Auntie-Boss, the two sharing an unbreakable bond. Lakshmi has Malik's best interests at heart throughout the book, treating him almost as her own son. 

I love how much more we learn about Malik in The Secret Keeper of Jaipur. Seeing him sprout into a young wise man. A mature, sensible, generous, and humble being. Malik is never forgetful of where he’s come from and always grateful to those who have giving him the opportunities he's received. 

We learn the caste system is unfortunately still very much alive and thriving in India’s culture, through various snippets and conversations in the book, especially while Malik is in Jaipur undertaking various tasks for the Singh-Sharma architecture company.
Courtesy of Prospect Magazine

The caste system divides Hindus into five rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (duty). Dalits (otherwise called untouchables or outcasts) such as street cleaners and those who preform other menial tasks remain at the bottom of the ladder while the Kshatriyas and Brahmin are the cream of the top, those who are rulers, administrators, and academics.

Lakshmi was born into the Brahmin caste as her father was a teacher, however is now considered a fallen Brahmin since she had touched the feet of other women while doing her henna art. I imagine Malik would perhaps belong to the Dalit caste, but I’m not sure, since where he comes from is unknown.

Ravi Singh is reintroduced, much older now but non the wiser. Twelve years older, and that boy hasn’t changed a bit, seducing every girl in Jaipur, doing as he pleases, although his parents Parvati and Samir think he’s Shiva’s greatest gift, and that he can do no wrong (Bhagwan forbid he settles down and finds a nice girl, mn? Let’s see). 

Ravi continues to climb the career ladder after the completion of his education, a privilege bestowed upon him due to the connections his family share with not only India’s upper crust but the shared bloodline with the Jaipur royal family. 

There’s a terrible accident in the Pink City, and with the lives of thousands at risk, Lakshmi, and our other friends find themselves caught in the crossfire trying to save salvage what they can of the wreckage surrounding them. 

The book continued to take some unexpected turns, and I found myself constantly surprised which is exactly what I want from a book.

We’re left wondering what will come next for our friends in Jaipur.

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur is bursting at the spine with secrets and unanswered questions. Engaging, enthralling, and captivating, Alka Joshi has done it again. Another winner, and another fabulous future book club pick. Readers will be catching this vibrant blue cover proudly displayed on shelves everywhere in the months to come.

Just like Reese Witherspoon said, this book captivated me from the first chapter to the last page. Joshi’s prose was smooth and realistic. I found The Secret Keeper to be an easy read, and would definitely recommend reading The Henna Artist beforehand if you can.

This book left me with a hole in my heart for the characters I would miss, and an empty stomach with a craving for some spiced chai, chapati, and chana dal.

“There’s more power to keeping a secret than betraying it” 

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur is available for pre-order at Indigo and on Kobo for release on June 22. For all other retailers, visit GoodReads

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