The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel.
Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…
Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still, she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.
A REESE WITHERSPOON x HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB PICK
“Captivated me from the first chapter to the final page.”—Reese Witherspoon
I grabbed at the opportunity to borrow this audiobook from my local library as I remembered it being a Reese Witherspoon book club pick when I was looking at celebrity book clubs. For one thing, it takes place in 1950’s India, and I could certainly relate to the moral ambiguities. There is the immersion into Indian society in that decade and, of course, an introduction to the kind of literature that Reese Witherspoon will be choosing for her book club picks. (I feel like I’ve come to know her in her Instagram stories–she really is adorable.)
Lakshmi flees from an abusive marriage at seventeen to establish herself in Jaipur. Years later she has not only become a renowned Henna artist of some stature, but quietly cares for many of her upper-class (female) clients with herbal remedies that allow them a certain additional “freedom.”
She counts heavily on her ability to be trusted with confidences and carefully contrives to build sufficient funds to build her own home. She is so close and her successful reputation will secure her dream.
That is, until her ex catches up with her with a thirteen-year-old girl in tow—a sister. Well, THAT’S a surprise! At first the high-spirited girl is reserved, unhappy. Neither has an easy job getting to know each other. It’s strained and puts a damper on the house in progress.
The problem is, the sister lacks the fierce drive Lakshmi has or interest in her trade, she is rough around the edges and doesn’t really care if she is trained in refinement or not.
And then a shock.
Mercy, what a problem! The 50s or choose the decade, teenagers can be difficult and control is tenuous. For the most part, I didn’t care for Radha’s character. She doesn’t seem to care one whit if she is ruining the seasoned relationships her older sister has cultivated—in fact—it appears she is purposefully trying to sink it.
“A reputation once lost is seldom retrieved.”
Lakshmi has gripped reader interest and as she struggles with losing her business(es—both of them), her character wields some sympathy. But, of course, as the old saying goes, “when one door closes…”
“Only a fool lives in water and remains an enemy of the crocodile.”
Lakshmi is nothing if not resourceful. The tale weaves through then family traditions, divulging secrets, and the tenacity of family. There is a myriad of characters, the women more empathetic, the men powerful, and it is fun to peek into the culture. I always enjoy the discussions of herbal remedies, some eons old (although these veered into sensitive areas), and eventually there is a blending of “modern” medicine with the ancient.
Lakshmi manages a brilliant maneuver and I was quite satisfied with the conclusion. An ending you probably wished for as well and brought a smile. The narrator does a great job of smoothing difficult words I’d have stumbled over often and definitely enhances the enjoyment of the tale. You may wish to choose the audiobook as well.
Genre: World Literature, Cultural Heritage Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Harlequin Audio
Listening Length: 10 hrs 56 minsNarrator: Sneha Mathan
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: The Henna Artist [Amazon]
Rosepoint Publishing: Four point Five Stars
The Author: Alka Joshi was born in the desert state of Rajasthan in India. In 1967, her family immigrated to America. She earned a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from California College of Arts in San Francisco. Prior to writing The Henna Artist, Alka ran an advertising and marketing agency for 30 years. She has spent time in France and Italy and currently lives with her husband on the Northern California Coast.
©2022 – V Williams