Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Rating: 5 Stars
I recently completed The Henna Artist, a lovely and engaging novel released in 2020 by author Alka Joshi.
The story centers on a young woman's struggle to make a new life for herself in 1950s Jaipur, India. Lakshmi, only seventeen, encounters many challenges along the way, including the fallout from an abusive marriage, struggles to purchase her own home, and to create a thriving henna artist business for the city's privileged and wealthy women. Early in the story, Lakshmi's estranged husband arrives on her doorstep and brings with him the Lakshmi's younger sister - a sibling she didn't know she had.
While Lakshmi is overjoyed to meet her new sister, it is an extra responsibility to ensure the girl's welfare, education, and safety. The story becomes increasingly complicated and tense as the young, headstrong, and idealistic sister makes precarious decisions, placing Lakshmi's entire world in danger of crumbling into dust.
I was fascinated by the henna artist profession, in which Lakshmi painstakingly applies a handmade ink in a variety of complex patterns to create a sense of peacefulness, bring about desire, or create luck for bringing a new baby into the world. Through persistence and carefully-forged connections, Lakshmi lands an audience with the royals, an almost impossible opportunity. Of course, at that juncture, life goes sideways for our young heroine.
I was delighted to find that there is a PDF download that goes into detail about the setting, characters, and recipes! I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in a detailed and challenging account of one clever, idealistic, and ambitious woman's fight for freedom and respect in a country still firmly engrained in the caste system. The cover artwork is gorgeous; the descriptions are fantastic, and the writing superb. BTW - there is a happily-ever-after ending! Yay and thank you, Alka. Follow her on Instagram @thealkajoshi.
Have a lovely Friday!