Set in the 1950’s in Jaipur, The Henna Artist, follows the story of 18 year old Lakshmi who has escaped an abusive marriage, left her village and parents to start an independent life for herself. With time, she becomes the most sought after henna artist and confidante to the city’s most notable and wealthy families. Alongside her talent for applying beautiful henna designs, Lakshmi provides herbal remedies as well. As she moves in these circles, she must be careful with keeping their secrets safe and protecting her own reputation.
She is stunned one day, when her husband has tracked her down after many years and shows up with a young girl, Radha- Lakshmi’s sister, who she has never met.
My initial thoughts when reviewing this book fall on Lakshmi’s character. It was well written and shows what a strong-minded, determined, and yet fragile women she is. Her hard work and resilience shone throughout the story, which made her admirable and I found myself hoping for the best for her. Adding the element of herbal medicine alongside the henna artistry, added another layer to Lakshmi’s story which created good depth.
There were other characters in the book such as Malik and Madho Singh, that were perhaps not developed in the same way as Lakshmi, but admirable nonetheless.
Alka Joshi’s writing was detailed and flowed well in the pages. While reading, one feels the mix of traditional and western influences that are showcased in India in the 1950’s. Not at the forefront, but the story also has elements of the caste system, gender inequality, the condition of prostitutes and courtesan are all touched upon.
This story showcased the struggles many women face as they try and navigate personal relationships and the decisions they are sometime forced to take. The narrative was well developed and I appreciated the use of hindi words in the writing, which added just the right touch.
Alka Joshi has written a fantastic debut novel that is vibrant and has a captivating story that I truly enjoyed reading. I appreciated that it wasn’t an overly heavy read, and yet the story had me absorbed. I am so glad it was selected by Reese’s Book club, as that brought it on my radar to read!