An Author and Her Books, Alka Joshi
She can't change her mother's history, but she can write an alternate ending to tell a great what-if story
It finally feels like fall here. It was hot last week, but the weekend was nice and cool, which led to some great reading. After the miserable summer heat, fall always feels like a new beginning. I have a different outlook on life; I want to get out and do things, and I’m just a generally happier person. Thank goodness for three other seasons; if you don’t like one, you are sure to find one that does bring you happiness.
I love discovering new authors, and a couple of years ago, quite by accident, I did just that. I received an ARC from NetGalley of this author’s very first book, and I was amazed at the story she told. She credits her husband for encouraging her to “try writing fiction.” Thank goodness for her husband as she crafts beautiful stories about a culture that is new to me and that I want to learn more about.
India-born author Alka Joshi has lived in the US since age nine. She owned an advertising agency for thirty years before taking her husband’s advice and enrolled in classes at night, which sparked her desire to try her hand at fiction writing. She graduated with a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from California College of the Arts. Her seemingly overnight success took ten years and several trips to Jaipur, with her mother acting as her guide and fact checker to ensure that what she wrote made sense for the 1950s period in which the book was written. It also helped that Reese’s Book Club chose The Henna Artist as the book for April 2020 when the world shut down because of Covid, and her traveling and speaking tour with the book had barely begun. She has written her third book, set to publish in March 2023, giving you plenty of time to read the first two books in advance of the series' final book. If you are a historical/heritage fiction fan, these gorgeous covers will draw you right in, and the writing and the stories will keep you turning the pages.
The Henna Artist - I received the first book in the trilogy as an ARC from NetGalley, and I read it almost immediately. It took me to a period and country I’d never been to through the crafting of the story, and I learned so much about arranged marriages and the brave women that escaped to have something different in their lives. The characters are all well written, there are many layers throughout, and through those characters you learn about how the author reimagines how her own mother’s life could have been without her arranged marriage. Be sure to read the author’s note as it gives more context to the story the author tells. 📚
The Secret Keeper of Jaipur - Author of The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Christy Lefteri, says, “Alka Joshi is a master story-teller. I was completely mesmerized by the book and could not put it down! It is a story of love, family, money, and power told with poise, beauty, and page-turning suspense. It touched my heart and will stay with me for a long time.” The second book in the series picks up about twelve years after The Henna Artist ends and integrates a couple of new characters into the storyline, which includes a mystery and is more adventurous than the first book. I think I enjoyed this one more than the first one because of the main character's growth and the mystery involved. So many times, the second book in a series can lead to disappointment, but not in this case. I loved it and can’t wait to read the final book in the trilogy. 📚
The Perfumist of Paris - I have this as an ARC, but I haven’t read it yet. I want to wait until I get past mid-October so I can read this in my leisure and savor it. From author Lauren Belfer, “Riveting from start to finish, Joshi once again weaves her glittering magic, taking us on a voyage of discovery to Paris and India and illuminating the world of scent.” The third book begins about a decade after the previous book ends and takes readers inside the perfume industry, which I know little about, so I’m excited to read it. After the first two, I have high hopes for this book, and the early reviews tell me I won’t be disappointed. 📚
Here are several links to interviews, podcasts, and videos.
📝 In this NY Times article, Joshi tells the story of her mother’s life and how it might have been different had she not had an arranged marriage at age 18. (gift link)
🎧 A Sylvia and Me podcast episode with Joshi about how the introduction of her first book into the world changed because of Covid and how she pivoted.
💻 A Reese’s Book Club video chat after reading The Henna artist.
📝 A Next Avenue interview with Joshi, where she talks more about her mother’s life and influence on her own life and writing.
🎧 If more podcasts are your thing, this link will show you several different Joshi episodes on different podcasts for both her books over the last couple of years.
💻 A San Francisco Public Library video of the chat with Joshi, where she discusses her books and the craft of writing. I really enjoyed this interview.
📝 A BookBrowse Q & A discusses her first two novels and how she came to write each.
I’ve only recently started reading books about different cultures (better late than never), and reading The Henna Artist opened up a world of learning and the desire to read more about Indian culture. I can’t wait to see what Joshi writes next, as the trilogy's first two books were so good.
Do you like learning about different cultures and counties in the world? I’d really like to read more about India. Do you have any books that you’d recommend that I read? Tell me if you’ve read either of the first two books and what you think about this series. You can tell me all about it in the comments below.
Here’s to a great reading week, and happy reading!
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