- Book: The Henna Artist
- Location: Jaipur
- Author: Alka Joshi
This novel has popped up on my timeline innumerable times, over several months and I felt it was clamouring to be read. It was a Reese’s Book Club Pick and it is set in Jaipur, and as the pandemic continues, I wanted to be transported to India for some colour and culture, wrapped within a good story.
This is a vibrantly evocative book that drew me in with rounded characters and, of course, a great setting. It is set in post Independence India, and perhaps many things haven’t noticeably changed but there is electricity in the air and a ‘can-do’ vibe. Lakshmi had a short-lived marriage, and now she is independently forging her way, her own independence mirroring that of her nation. Yes, there are still huge prejudices and divisive societal norms that restrict how people function but knowing how to navigate the system is something at which Lakshmi excels.
She is the eponymous henna artist of the title, a job that is often carried out by women of a lower caste. She creates beautiful, often sensuous designs that are sought after in the higher echelons of society. Before long she is an indispensable fixture as she goes about her business.
She left her husband, a shameful act in the eyes of her parents and of society, so somehow she has to redress the balance. She wants her parents to come and live with her, to join her in a new house that she is proudly funding herself. She has sent money for their trip. However it isn’t her parents who turn up but her husband, with her younger sister in tow – she had no notion that she had a younger sibling. How does life go forward from this point?
As the book opens, there is a cast of characters, which to be honest, often puts me off because I worry that I won’t be able to keep track of them all. But concerns were unfounded, as the author introduces the various characters in an engaging and structured way. At the end, there is a useful glossary of words for reference.
A novel indeed full of colour and vibrancy that is beautifully transportive.