THE SECRET KEEPER OF JAIPUR
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 favours 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.
What a book! To say it is an excellent read is like saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to a non-Christian. Justice is not done.
The opening sonata
The book is a richly beautiful and captivating symphony. Its primary melody is a tribute to the magnificence and opulence of India while its secondary one subtly promotes the idea of internationalism and universal equality. Maestro Alka Joshi conducts every instrument at her literary disposal, the emotional, the romantic, the suspenseful, and the dangerous. Ultimately, the richness of this cultural concert hits crescendos that justify the acclaim and recognition The Secret Keeper of Jaipur has received.
The opening gently awakens the reader with soft melodies, a very long list of characters who play the starring roles in the story. Before you know it, you hear the melodic overtones of culture played to the tune of Indian names, Indian words and Indian phrases. The tune may be disconcerting at first, but soon the melody lulls one into comfortable acquiescence of cultural resonance.
The rich writing style may be disconcerting to some readers as may be socially challenging and culturally conflicting to some. However, Joshi soon seduces readers.
She teaches, gently in a descriptive manner that makes the new ideas interesting and engaging.
Soon the reader is learning about herbal medicine and traditional remedies unheard of in the West but accepted every day in the culture there.
The melodies drift upward, higher and higher with such descriptions as: ‘those blue orbs, the colour of mountain sky after a night’s rain.’ Consider it for a moment, a typical description of Joshi’s literary baton.
The music descends to ominous notes of corruption and dishonesty which permeates Indian society and government, notes prevalent to many other societies in the world.
Comparisons to other writers
Joshi mirrors other international authors, Donna Leon and David P. Parker, writers who shine lights on the scandals and corruption pervasive throughout Italian society. The notes differ but the melody remains: government corruption is universal; the only difference is the volume of that nation’s symphony.
Joshi plays many varied melodies relating to India: its caste stratification, its tribal systems, its poverty and its entitled. Comparable to other societies, similar melodies, played to different volumes or different beats.
A love story
A love story is developed, a young man falls in love with a young widow with two very young children. The romantic melody recurs repeatedly, woven like a gold thread through a rich tapestry.
Crescendos of suspense
Then the concert hits new crescendos of suspense and drama with the details of construction corruption too common to too many impoverished nations in the world.
Joshi plays Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture symphony with its melodic flourishes and climatic tones, crescendos, drum rolls, violin flurries as the plot develops. Will the government act? Will the Maharani of Jaipur initiate criminal charges? Will anyone be charged? The questions, musical climaxes have the reader anxiously turning page after page. Will the hero Malik succeed in exposing the corruption? Will the family friends of the book’s heroine escape the condemnation of the corruption? Joshi’s concert is melodically captivating.
The many melodic layers, Hindu, Muslim, Indian, British, vary the melody and entertain page after page.
The final word
This is a book is written with an appreciation of an incredible culture and a very rich society. The book plays a tale that captivates and engages the reader endlessly. A reader not only enjoys a literary symphony but will applaud it enthusiastically as it reaches its very satisfying conclusion.
But just as the symphony ends, Joshi plays a denouement with idiomatic explanations, Indian recipes and classic cocktails, yes, cocktail recipes that bring the whole symphony to a quiet close.
The Secret Keeper of Jaipur deserves all the accolades and acclaim it has received as truly ranks among the best. A great book.