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The Perfumist of Paris by Alka Joshi

Journey to 1970s Paris where budding perfumer must compete with the demands of her family and the secrets of her past.

Start reading The Perfumist of Pairs (and enter for the chance to win a copy). On Sale March 28, 2023. Discover this book and more at


“Imagine running amid a field of lavender bushes with your friends. Playing hide-and-seek between rows of jasmine vines.” Antoine closed his eyes. “Your friend tickles your nose with a blade of grass and, just from its scent, you know it’s from the farm down the hill, not the one up the rise. Imagine plucking a vine-ripened tomato from your mother’s garden just to inhale its sharp aroma.” He sighed. “That’s what growing up in Grasse was like.”

I didn’t have to imagine. The delicate fragrance of the henna f lower greeted me on my way to the village riverbank where I washed clothes. My mouth watered at the ripe melon scent of mangoes that Prem feasted on as his bulls ground wheat and corn into f lour. And the moment before I offered my finest possession—the peepal leaf painting of Radha and Krishna that Munchi-ji had made for me—to Lord Ganesh, I breathed deeply of the sandalwood incense as I folded my hands to pray for good luck.

Like Antoine, my memories were rich with scent. And so were my secrets.

Part One

Europeans once traded gold for cloves grown in South India so they could spread the spice across their floors to absorb foot odor.

September 2, 1974

I pick up on the first ring; I know it’s going to be her. She always calls on his birthday. Not to remind me of the day he came into this world but to let me know I’m not alone in my remembrance.

“Jiji?” I keep my voice low. I don’t want to wake Pierre and the girls.

“Kaisi ho, choti behen?” my sister says. I hear the smile in her voice, and I respond with my own. It’s lovely to hear Lakshmi’s gentle Hindi here in my Paris apartment four thousand miles away. I’d always called her Jijibig sister—but she hadn’t always called me choti behen. It was Malik who addressed me as little sister when I first met him in Jaipur eighteen years ago, and he wasn’t even related to Jiji and me by blood. He was simply her apprentice. My sister started calling me choti behen later, after everything in Jaipur turned topsy-turvy, forcing us to make a new home in Shimla.

Today, my sister will talk about everything except the reason she’s calling. It’s the only way she’s found to make sure I get out of bed on this particular date, to prevent me from spiraling into darkness every year on the second of September, the day my son, Niki, was born.

She started the tradition the first year I was separated from him, in 1957. I was just fourteen. Jiji arrived at my boarding school with a picnic, having arranged for the headmistress to excuse me from classes. We had recently moved from Jaipur to Shimla, and I was still getting used to our new home. I think Malik was the only one of us who adjusted easily to the cooler temperatures and thinner air of the Himalayan mountains, but I saw less of him now that he was busy with activities at his own school, Bishop Cotton.

I was in history class when Jiji appeared at the door and beckoned me with a smile. As I stepped outside the room, she said, “It’s such a beautiful day, Radha. Shall we take a hike?” I looked down at my wool blazer and skirt, my stiff patent leather shoes, and wondered what had gotten into her. She laughed and told me I could change into the clothes I wore for nature camp, the one our athletics teacher scheduled every month. I’d woken with a heaviness in my chest, and I wanted to say no, but one look at her eager face told me I couldn’t deny her. She’d cooked my favorite foods for the picnic. Makki ki roti dripping with ghee. Palak paneer so creamy I always had to take a second helping. Vegetable korma. And chole, the garbanzo bean curry with plenty of fresh cilantro.

Excerpt from The Perfumist of Paris, Copyright © 2023 by Alka Joshi. All rights reserved.

The Perfumist of Paris will be available in bookstores across Canada and online on On Sale March 28th, 2023

Enter for your chance to win a copy of
The Perfumist of Paris by Alka Joshi

Enter for your chance to win a copy of The Perfumist of Paris by Alka Joshi