The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi is an intimate look at the life of an Indian woman named Lakshmi. She was forced to marry a man named Hari at a young age. His mother taught her herbal medicine, including remedies for hair loss, fertility, and abortion. When Hari became abusive, Lakshmi escaped to Jaipur India. Her abandonment brought great shame to her parents. Unbeknown to Lakshmi when she deserted, her mother was pregnant with another daughter named Radha.
In Jaipur, Lakshmi meets a wealthy man named Samir, who is very interested in her medicine packets. Samir introduces her to his wife Parvati, who helps Lakshmi become a well-known henna artist amongst the rich women. Lakshmi wants nothing more than to finish paying for the house she is having built and to continue to grow her business. Her life is upended when Hari arrives in Jaipur with the 13-year-old Radha after their parents died. Radha, who had been known as the bad luck girl in their home village, creates chaos for Lakshmi.
The story beautifully paints a picture of 1950’s India. This was a time when the royal family would disown children on the advice of astrologers and adopt a new heir apparent. In discussing life after British rule Lakshmi says, “Independence changed everything. Independence changed nothing.” Rumor mongers could easily destroy the livelihood of someone in a lower caste. Lakshmi must deal with the whims of the wealthy women, the wild behavior of her sister, financial woes, and eventually her own health issues.
The Henna Artist was one of Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club selections in 2020. I chose it for one of my 2021 Book Warrior Challenge selections which is a book with a cover that is mostly red. I listened to the Audible Audio and really enjoyed Sneha Mathan’s narration.
4 plus stars. Book club recommended, unless the discussion of abortions is upsetting for your group.