Welcome to our Ten Book Challenge where our favorite authors share some of their most beloved and memorable reads—from the books with their favorite covers and best opening lines, to the reads they gift and the bookstores they frequent. This is a peek into your favorite authors’ perfect bowl of literary comfort food. We hope you discover something delicious!
When her debut The Henna Artist was picked as a Reese’s Book Club Pick (“Captivated me from the first chapter to the last page.”—Reese Witherspoon), the pressure was on for author Alka Joshi’s next book in the series. But New York Times best-selling author Joshi’s delivered with her intriguing new novel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, in more ways than one.
In The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, 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.
We talked with Alka Joshi about the 10 books that influence her the most. Want more? Check out our exclusive interview with Alka Joshi about writing the book as a reimagining of her mother’s life, what she discovered in her henna research, and what readers can expect from book #3 in the series.
The Book I . . .
I last bought/am currently reading: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
I recommend to everyone: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
That was my favorite to read last year, and why: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – provided an engrossing history of South Koreans in Japan through an engaging, world-building generational saga.
Whose author I would love to have lunch with: Madhuri Vijay, author of The Far Field. I marvel at how someone so young captured the mature passions and conflicts that war incites.
That made me realize language had power: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The first page told me everything I needed to know about Jane, and I empathized with her completely.
I’d like to see adapted to the screen: A Circle of Stones by Bradley Jay Owens. It’s a short story in his collection How I Met You, and it took my breath away. It could be the most poignant and original coming-of-age story for the big screen.
That made me laugh out loud—or cry—while reading it: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga made me laugh out loud!
That has the most gorgeous cover: The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, of course
With the best opening line: Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… I loved it so much, I paid homage to Dickens in the opening line of The Henna Artist: Independence changed everything; independence changed nothing.
Bookstore that I frequent/is my favorite: Too many stores in too many cities to recount!
Bonus: How are South Asian audiences reacting to my books?: Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, and Bengladeshis tell me how delighted they are that I’m telling the many different stories of South Asians. We are not just about arranged marriages or yoga or Bollywood dancing or any of the other stereotypes attributed to us, we are people who go to work, raise families, maintain ancient traditions, adapt to new cultures, and contribute to the global diaspora. In the end, East and West are not so different; we can each learn from the other.