Fiction, literary fiction

2 For 1 Review: The Henna Artist & The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi

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“There were three kinds of karma: the accumulated karma from all our past lives; the karma we created in this life; and the karma we stored to ripen in our future lives.”

It’s the 50’s in Jaipur, India, 17 year old Lakshmi has just escaped an abusive marriage and become a henna artist amongst many things. To make up for the shame she put on her family for leaving her marriage, Lakshmi is determined to have a better life. She is building a house to have her parents come live with her and be comfortable. Lakshmi’s clientele are the the wealthy, upper class and they sometimes confide in her. Playing the long game, Lakshmi keeps their secret as well as hers knowing that it would ruin everything she has built.

Everything comes crashing down when her ex-husband tracks her down and brings with him a surprise – Lakshmi has a younger sister named Radha. Lakshmi reorganizes her life to include her sister, who comes with a bunch of trouble and threatens to upend everything Lakshmi has worked for.

The book started out slow but once you get past the introductions, it quickly found its way and we begin to live in Lakshmi’s world. Joshi does a good job of portraying Lakshmi’s resilience and determination. Lakshmi quite simply does what needs to be done to survive. I was not a fan of her sister and found her quite unlikable but I had to keep reminding myself that she was just 13.

I enjoyed learning a lot about India and its history. I also appreciated how much research Joshi had to have put into this. One of Lakshmi’s many jobs including providing medical care with herbal and natural medicines. Joshi was very detailed in the many cures mentioned in the book and I was fascinated. I did this on audio and the narrator was FANTASTIC. Her voice was so soothing. Finding out the inspiration for this book was the author trying to reimagine what her mother’s life would have been like if she hadn’t been forced into an arranged marriage was a nice tid-bit to know. I highly recommend this book.


He says you must be able to discern the intensity of a customer’s desire by looking into their eyes. That will tell you what to show, what to hold back, and how much the customer is willing to part with.”

The second book in this series continues 12 years later, Lakshmi is now married to one of the characters in Book 1 (I won’t spoil it for you), Radha is now living in France with her husband and two kids and Lakshmi’s protégé, Malik is now 20 years old and grown. Lakshmi and Malik now live in Shimla and she sends him back to Jaipur to learn the real estate trade and to keep him out of trouble on the streets. Before Malik leaves, he falls in love with Nimmie, a young tribal widow with two kids who is illiterate. Lakshmi isn’t exactly pleased about this and the two have some friction as they subconsciously compete for Malik’s time.

The book follows two stories. One in Shimla, when Nimmie discovers illegal gold being trafficked through the sheep in the mountains and in Jaipur when the newly constructed Royal Theater where Malik is doing his apprenticeship, collapses. We watch the two navigate their way out of trouble with the help of Lakshmi, of course.

While I enjoyed this sequel, I still preferred The Henna Artist. I think this is understandable as Book 2 wouldn’t have the same effect as being introduced to new characters. At the same time, it was nice revisiting characters that we have met and know. Joshi does a good job of writing this book in a way where it could be read as a stand alone and you’d still know what was going on. There was a brief summary and the only difference is Book 1 gives a lot of context.

Even though I found her unlikeable in Book 1, I was surprised to find that I was a tad disappointed that Radha was barely mentioned but I suspect that she will be in the final book of this trilogy. I know I swore off trilogies but I will be rounding this one out and looking forward to it. Not surprisingly, this has been optioned in Hollywood and will be starring Frieda Pinto.


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