Book Review: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

About the Book:

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.

My Thoughts:

The Henna Artist is an interesting story that follows the life of Lakshmi as she navigates high society as a henna artist. Known for her unique designs, she is well-known in Jaipur and sought out quite often. The story pulls the reader into a world of gossip, scheming and wealth. We learn a lot about India in the time just after independence, the sights, the scenes. The author does a wonderful job describing this and pulls the reader in with her words.

As the story progresses, the author reveals tidbits of information about Lakshmi’s past, but everything starts to change when her husband, whom she after two years of marriage, turns up at her door-step with her sister. The shock of finding out about having a sister is enough to turn Lakshmi’s life up-side down. As time progresses, she tries to adapt and take care of her sister, giving her everything she can and did not have growing up. Forced into dealing with a young teenager and one who doesn’t know much of the world, Lakshmi’s work and reputation are under scrutiny and at risk.

The author brings out the feelings of the characters and everyone around them as the story unfolds. However, it felt as though some of the issues were dealt with from a surface level where more details could have been given. Radha’s thoughts and the reason behind some of her actions are never truly explained. But, inspite of this, the story flows very well and it both amazing and shocking all at once. I love how the author portrayed the interactions of the various characters and brought to us a vivid picture of the kind of life different people live, across castes and class.

A truly well-written novel, this book is definitely worth a read!

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