|photo: Garry Bailey
Alka Joshi is a graduate of Stanford University and the California College of Arts in San Francisco. She was born and lived in Rajasthan, India, until the age of nine, when her family moved to the United States. Her debut novel, The Henna Artist, was published March 3, 2020, by Mira Books, which will also publish The Royal Jewel Cinema, the sequel to The Henna Artist. Joshi lives in Northern California and runs a marketing and advertising agency.
On your nightstand now:
The Dutch House, Ann Patchett: I love stories about families--the complex relationships, misunderstandings and shifting loyalties that take place over decades. In every one of her novels, Patchett builds the world of her characters and infuses them with such unique personalities that I'm compelled to care about them.
The Family Upstairs, Lisa Jewell: Who doesn't like a good mystery? One that leads us down unpredictable warrens, some of which lead to riches and others to red herrings? My love of mysteries started with cozies and matured to psychological thrillers like this one.
Very Nice, Marcy Dermansky: Satires are fun, especially when the characters are modern-day, self-absorbed writers and a witty author like Dermansky is writing about them.
Women Talking, Miriam Toews: I like reading about unfamiliar worlds. This novel, by an ex-Mennonite, builds on sexual abuse by men within a Mennonite community and the women's attempt to deal with it.
A Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes: Is it because I was brought up in the British school system in India that I feel an affinity for English writers? I'm drawn in by their dry wit and self-deprecating style. Not to mention stories about boarding schools, headmasters and crushworthy boys.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Once we were in America, I devoured Leona Mattingly Weber's series about Beany Malone, a girl close to my age. Beany helped me understand American girls, friendships and teenage longing, which was 1950s wholesome, not 2020 no-holds-barred (that might have taken me to another place entirely!). I also fell in love with Agatha Christie mysteries, which, as an immigrant, felt both familiar and foreign to me: a Belgian detective, Poirot, who lived in England, drank French tea and traveled to exotic places where he solved the murder using psychological insight, not guns and gore. Ahh, simpler times.
Your top five authors:
Please don't ask me to limit it to five! There are so many wonderful authors in this world. Although, as I started to list them, I realized my faves were primarily women:
Anne Tyler, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Khaled Hosseini, Jane Austen, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zoë Ferraris, Anita Amirrezvani, John Steinbeck, Tracy Chevalier, Ann Patchett, George Sand (Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin), Kaye Gibbons, Charles Dickens , Shobha Rao, Ha Jin, Julie Otsuka, Larry McMurtry, Akhil Sharma, Gillian Flynn, Charlotte Brontë.
Book you've faked reading:
Homer's Odyssey. Oy. Had to for college. If only they'd had Ted Talks back then, I might have been able to get through it. I still have nightmares about being caught short in class!
Book you're an evangelist for:
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. In this smart, witty little novel, 36-year-old Keiko is content with her simple life and her job at Smile Mart convenience store, but her family and co-workers tell her she should want more. Murata cleverly highlights what's wrong with our continual need to strive for more when happiness could be as simple as maintaining our status quo. It's like a bite-sized Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now, only fictionalized--and funny.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky.For a jewelry lover like me, that Tiffany blue cover was calling to me like chameli to a bee (a reference from The Henna Artist to a sweet-smelling flower that bees cannot resist).
Book you hid from your parents:
I never had to hide anything from my parents. They were way less prudish than me! At age 18, when I worked up the courage to tell my sari-clad, arranged-marriage Mom that I wanted to sleep with my first boyfriend, my mother grinned (as if to say finally!) and advised me to get enough experience before getting married. Then she took me to get birth control pills.
Book that changed your life:
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. This book, more than any other I'd read, took me to a dark place for months and would not let me go. Mistry's protagonists--good-hearted, simple folk--made me cry and rail against a political system that thwarted them at every turn. If I could ever write anything one-sixteenth as powerful as this novel, I will die a happy woman.
Favorite line from a book:
"After all, tomorrow is another day." This line is one that Scarlett often repeats in Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. As a teenager, I loved Scarlett's resilience and her refusal to dwell on the negative. Her philosophy and mine: no matter what obstacles I face today, I can get up tomorrow and start anew. This has allowed me to reinvent myself throughout my life.
Five books you'll never part with:
When a flood in my Palo Alto house destroyed some 300 books, lots of art and furniture, I learned not to get too attached to possessions. Now there's always the internet, audio and e-books--in case there's another flood in my future!
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Once again, I can't stop at just one... Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.
How we encourage readers to reach more often for fiction that takes place in other countries:
As his Academy Award acceptance, Bong Joon-ho, the South Korean director of Parasite, said, "Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films." Similarly, we need to encourage readers to welcome foreign words in novels. Once readers realize how much they can pick up just from the context and, as in the case of The Henna Artist, when there's a glossary included, they can travel to incredible, magical places far, far away without leaving their couch or emptying their pocketbook.