The Henna Artist

Alki Joshi | March 2020 | pgs: 384

StoryGraph Summary: 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 Experience: I really enjoyed this book! I started it a few books after A Burning, and it was needed. Certainly the colorful, lush descriptions in The Henna Artist was a stark comparison to the dark struggle described in A Burning. This doesn’t mean The Henna Artist was without its own struggles, issues of female independence around health, marriage, and wealth played out vividly against a backdrop of lush and colorful descriptions of Jaipur in the 1950’s. Rich descriptions of fabrics, jewelry, spice markets, and architectural design almost become secondary characters in a very beautifully written story.

Lakshmi is a young girl running from an abusive marriage and restrictive life when she arrives, alone, in Jaipur. She caters to high societies wealth families by supplying them with beautiful henna designs and herbs that cure everything from unwanted pregnancies to wayward husbands. Shes seemingly made a good life for herself, when a sister she never knew she had, shows up with the abusive husband she didn’t want to find her.

Pros: The story reminds me of a Kristen Hannah novel. Beautifully written, incredible highs and lows, but somehow in the end it manages to all be well. Against the backdrop of a beautifully described country and culture, we get to experience the different roles women served in the culture at that time. Lakshmi is likely the most controversial, choosing to bring shame on her family because she flees from an abusive, childless marriage. Making a living for herself in Jaipur causes her and her family to loose station and lowers their caste. The wives she services are bound to a type of behavior and must bare sons and tolerate wayward husbands or be seen as less than successful in society. Not one character is shamed or written to be better than another. I suppose we learn, no matter your choice, loveless or abusive marriage, mistress or childless wife, independent , single woman, it all comes with its burden to bare.

Cons: No cons in terms of the story itself, except to note Lakshmi is initially written as a bit cold and calculating which could turn you off her, initially. But her relationship with her sister opens up her character as we see her legitimately caring for her sister, protecting her and wanting the best for her. Stick with Lakshmi as she moves through those emotions.

Im also aware the story itself may be a romanticized telling of life for woman in Jaipur in the 50’s. Kind of like what Gone With The Wind is to Roots. Fair point. Deserves mentioning, does not deserve you skipping the book and missing out on a good fictional story. I like Gone With The Wind AND Roots.

My independence, financial and otherwise, are important to me. I completely related to Lakshmi and her desire to be free of her abusive marriage and a life bound to what others desire for her, to serve their own interests. I read the authors inspiration was a reimagined story of her mothers life. To me, it read as a love letter to women to continue searching for happiness on their terms, whatever that looks like. God Bless. #GoodBook 33 of 46

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