Alka Joshi’s marvellous novel, The Henna Artist has everyone talking. Including Reese Witherspoon who chose it as a Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick. Reese said,
‘This vivid story is so rich and complex…reading about Lakshmi’s journey from escaping an abusive marriage to becoming one of the most sought-after henna artists in Jaipur captivated me from the first chapter to the final page.’
High praise indeed and it certainly put this debut novel on everyone’s radar. So, is it as good as everyone is saying? Absolutely. It’s a glorious, fabulous read and you need a copy immediately.
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 Radha, a high-spirited teenager in tow—an orphaned 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.
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.
Lakshmi is a complex, compelling character, independent in both an era and culture where a woman’s husband defines her worth. Her story doesn’t revolve around a search for love or a husband, and even more unusually, she has no desire for children. She’s had to make certain compromises to get where she is, but her goal is independence. The art of henna is fascinating, but Lakshmi is much more than a henna artist. She’s also a healer and sells packets of herbal contraceptive tea, used by men for their mistresses. But when Radha falls pregnant, and wants to keep her baby, Lakshmi’s carefully constructed world, and her priorities, begin to change.
Alka Joshi worked on The Henna Artist for a decade before it was picked up for publication. The heart and soul she put into this novel shows – it shines. 1950s India is brought vividly to life. Every line, every character, every marvellous description is a delight to read. This is a beautiful tale about women, family and the struggle for independence and freedom. Put The Henna Artist straight to the top of your To Be Read pile now. You’ll thank me later.