June 22, 2021
Alka Joshi
Harlequin / MIRA
Historical Fiction
Hardcover, 384 pages
In this stunning sequel to The Henna Artist, Lakshmi arranges for her protégé Malik o intern at the Jaipur Palace. It is a tale rich in character, storytelling, and atmosphere.

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, where the latest project is 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 the Jaipur’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 well as he untangles a web of lies.

“Joshi excels at creating strong characters, the addition of Nimmi being no exception. As Lakshmi and Malik uncover the cause of the disaster, their loyalties are put to the test in this applause-worthy encore.”
Dear Reader:

Before I became a writer, I was an avid reader, and I used to marvel at how writers could make characters come to life on the page. I could picture each in the gown or slacks the author described, moving about a scene and talking to the other characters. And I would wonder: Did the characters feel as real to the author as they do to me?

Fast forward fifty years. I’m sitting at my laptop, creating a scene between two characters when Malik, the enterprising servant boy I created in The Henna Artist, starts to tell me he’d like to tell his story. He’s no longer eight years old; he’s twenty. I ignore him for a while, but he’s persistent—and persuasive. An extremely likable and loyal character, Malik has captured the hearts of thousands of readers around the world. So I finally set aside the project I was working on and let Malik tell me his story. It came pouring forth. True to his character, Malik’s story is full of adventure and danger, and his love interest is a woman of unique character—not unlike Lakshmi.

And the answer to the question I used to wonder about? Yes, characters do come to life for authors as much as they do for readers. And when they do, you have to listen!

-Alka Joshi
Book Club Menu and Recipe
In the centuries before Marco Polo came to India in search of spices, Indians harvested black and green peppercorns, pressed oil from cloves, and ground mustard seeds to flavor foods, tantalize the senses, and heal the body.

The flavors of cilantro, turmeric, garam masala, and cumin are as much a part of my heritage, and my identity, as are the blue-green eyes I inherited from my mother, Sudha. Even as I write this, I’m sipping chai infused with cardamom seeds, a stick of cinnamon, and whole peppercorns. These over-lapping flavors bring the India of my childhood alive again in my imagination, with all its chaotic, phantasmagoric glory.

Making Indian dishes takes time: multiple ingredients must be cut, peeled, or diced; preparation must take place in stages; the flavor is enhanced by adding spices (as many as eight) at just the right time. Indian food is bold, colorful, bursting with aromas and flavors. What better way to enrich a plot and show character development than to infuse a story with one of the boldest, most beloved cuisines on earth?
Growing up, whenever my mother wondered what to make for dinner, my brothers and I clamored for her Aloo Gobi Matar Subji— Potato-Cauliflower-Pea Curried Vegetable. I want you to taste my mother’s version of this delicious comfort food because it has the added benefit of being good for you!

On dinner tables in North India and South Asian restaurants, this subji is a staple because potatoes, peas, and cauliflower are readily available in the market. And because cooks always keep a ready supply of onions, chilies, cumin seeds, turmeric, garlic, and fresh cilantro in their pantries. Mom served her subji with hot-off-the-stove chapati and clove-scented basmati rice as well as several other curried vegetables like okra or eggplant or garbanzo beans. She was partial to red chiles, and she always had a bowl of homemade yogurt and slices of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers at the table to temper the heat. Her sweet and sour lemon chutney added a little more kick to every meal.

I make this dish often in my kitchen. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as sumptuous as what my mother used to make, but as I peel the potatoes and chop the cauliflower, I feel her gentle hands guiding me, as Lakshmi might have done for Radha or Malik in her kitchen.

Because the dowager queen is a fan of gin and tonics, I asked my brother Madhup, the family mixologist, to create a cocktail just for her, the Maharani. Enjoy it with a samosa, pakora, or any other savories Lakshmi has on offer.

-Alka Joshi

*The Maharani Cocktail
*Pakoras or Samosas

*:Aloo Gobi Matar Subji
(Potato-Cauliflower-Pea Curried Vegetable) (see recipe)

Serve subji with
Clove-scented basmati rice
Curried okra, eggplant, or garbanzo beans homemade yogurt
Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers
Sweet and sour lemon chutney