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.
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.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
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There are so many secrets in our world, aren’t there? Ones we keep, ones we reveal, but only at the right moments.
This is the much-anticipated second book in Alka Joshi’s The Henna Artist trilogy. After reading The Henna Artist for our July book club pick and loving it, I was so excited to get my hands on this book! My favorite character from The Henna Artist was Malik, and this book is mostly his story. While you don’t need to read The Henna Artist first, I think doing so would lead to a richer reading experience with this book, so I highly recommend it.
We are reintroduced to many familiar characters from the first book, but 12 years have passed since we last saw them. Radha is grown and married, Lakshmi is graying and content married to Dr. Jay Kumar, and Malik is a young man setting out on the path to manhood. We are introduced to a newcomer as well, Nimmi, a young tribal woman recently widowed with two young children and Malik’s lover. The story is told from alternating viewpoints of Malik, Lakshmi, and Nimmi.
Sent at Lakshmi’s behest to return to Jaipur to learn from Manu Argwhal about the construction business, Malik uncovers discrepancies in materials receipts that he finds odd and reports to both his immediate supervisor and to Ravi Singh, but nothing ever comes of it. When the theatre balcony collapses, killing two and injuring many others and Manu’s job is on the line, Malik decides to investigate on his own. Lakshmi returns to Jaipur for the first time in 12 years to aid Malik and support her friends. But regardless of the amount of time that has passed, not much has changed in The Pink City, and Lakshmi’s presence could spell trouble for the Argwhals and their secretly adopted son, Lakshmi’s nephew by Radha and Ravi Singh.
Not all the drama is reserved for Jaipur though. Even in quiet Shimla, nestled in the Himalayan mountains, danger is afoot and lands at the doorstep of the community clinic that Lakshmi runs and Nimmi helps at in the form of two young children and a sheep. As a city woman, Lakshmi doesn’t understand why her nurses are backing away from the children and the sheep, and she doesn’t speak the dialect the children use to understand what’s going on, so she calls for Nimmi. But Nimmi, who has traveled with her tribe for years knows exactly what she’s looking at and who is involved, and it puts her and her family in grave danger.
Opening the cover for the first time to begin reading this book was the reading equivalent of slipping into your most comfortable cardigan, cozied up under your favorite blanket, sipping a hot cup of tea. It felt like catching up with old friends, such is Ms. Joshi’s talent for writing her characters. We have the same colorful backdrop as the first book, which immerses us in Indian culture by way of scene description, language, and food. The atmosphere created with this story remains as potent as in The Henna Artist.
This book was mostly plot-driven, which I don’t mind in a sequel where you already know the characters, but it’s also been over a decade, so I would have liked to have seen Malik’s character developed a bit more, especially since this is his story, really. The undercurrent of danger throughout the book slowly built, evolving into a strained confrontation between Lakshmi and her past in the form of Samir and Parvati. I confess I was a bit disappointed that the conflict was resolved so quickly and cleanly in just a few pages. I truly didn’t think that would happen, but maybe that’s my modern Western cultural influence and perhaps a touch of cynicism coloring that reaction.
Still, the book was an excellent portrait of the lengths people will go to in order to protect those they love, and the clean resolution speaks well that the preservation of reputation has an uncanny ability to force honorable actions from those who would otherwise use their wealth to brush everything under the rug. And you can’t beat Ms. Joshi’s ability for an immersive reading experience!
I’m very eager to read the third book in the trilogy, coming out in 2023, which I hope to glean more about during our Books, WIPs, + Sips Book Club meeting one week from tonight when I will have Alka Joshi herself as a special guest to discuss this book and more! I hope you’ll join us Live on Instagram at 7 pm CST on Tuesday, September 28th!
We had so much fun talking to Ms. Joshi during our book club! Catch the replay below and don’t worry about spoilers if you haven’t read it because there weren’t any this time!
Get all the details on her inspiration, her favorite proverb, what she’d want Lakshmi to paint on her with henna, and of course when you can expect the Miramax adaptation for TV and the final installment in the series!
Also, in the video, Ms. Joshi references a perfume inspired by Lakshmi that her friend created. You can find that here!
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