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The Henna Artist: Book summary and reviews of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

The Henna Artist

by Alka Joshi

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi X
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
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About this book

Book Summary

Escaping from an arranged and abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone from her 1950s rural village to the vibrant pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the henna artist - and confidante - most in demand 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.

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.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Lakshmi is such a strong and multifaceted character. What makes her that way? What are three things a great protagonist needs to truly stand out?
  2. Could Lakshmi have found another way to escape her abusive marriage? What do you think of the choices she made to change her circumstances?
  3. Should Lakshmi have tried to make her marriage work the second time around? Why or why not?
  4. What do you think Lakshmi has ultimately learned about herself and about her place in the world by the end of the novel?
  5. What do you see as the basic similarities and differences between Lakshmi and the Maharanis she works for? Who has more freedom? Who has more advantages?
  6. Lakshmi and Malik are very close, even though she is Hindu and he is Muslim. What ...
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Media Reviews

"Joshi's evocative descriptions capture India's sensory ambience (horse-drawn tongas, pungent cooking fires and incense, and colorful saris), drawing readers deep into her moving story. Joshi masterfully balances a yearning for self-discovery with the need for familial love." - Publishers Weekly

"Fantastic, so evocative and beautiful and full of life and light.... The Henna Artist is detailed and sumptuous, vivid in its characters and deeply satisfying in its storytelling." - Leah Franqui, author of America for Beginners

"The Henna Artist is a bold, ambitious, beautifully written novel about India in the decade after independence, and about class, identity, love and deceit. The broad cast of characters will etchthemselves into your psyche." - Tom Barbash, author of Stay Up With Me

"Alka Joshi's superb first novel is unforgettable.... Read this book slowly and savor it: Every page is rich with intricate pleasures for both the mind and the heart." - Anita Amirrezvani, author of The Blood of Flowers

"Like a brilliant, magical kaleidoscope, bursting with color, The Henna Artist kept me riveted from start to finish." - Lauren Belfer, NYT Bestselling author of After the Fire and City of Light

"Everything a great novel needs is here: The protagonist balancing impossible burdens with her bountiful talents; the many other characters, each so colorful and complex, each necessary to the intricate and delicate plot, Such a satisfying novel!" - Sandra Scofield, author of The Last Draft

"Alka Joshi's debut novel is a richly drawn design of love and the many hungers that drive human beings...a lush, gorgeous journey that any reader will be sorry to see end." - Erin McGraw, author of The Good Life and The Seamstress of Hollywood

"Romantic, old-time Rajasthan leaps to life in the skilled hands of Alka Joshi. The Henna Artist brims over with richly drawn customs, locations, and characters. I can hardly wait for Alka Joshi's next masterpiece." - Sujata Massey, internationally bestselling author of The Satapur Moonstone and The Widows of Malabar Hill

"The Henna Artist is a delicious, old-fashioned tale about timeless heartaches. There's something elemental and mythic about Lakshmi and her knowledge of spices, roots, oils, and barks that drew me into the kind of world I gladly lived in when reading fairy tales as a child, a place inhabited by powerful queens, talking birds, magical drinks, orphans, sad princesses, clever servants, and dangerous poisons. I'm in awe of Joshi's storytelling and a little jealous of the character who winds up with the talking bird. 'Namaste!' as he says. 'Bonjour! Welcome!'" - Laura McNeal, author of The Practice House

The information about The Henna Artist shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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A very engaging read
The Henna Artist has all the ingredients I look for in a great book: a strong (female) protagonist facing a seemingly insurmountable task who manages to survive admirably. To be honest, I knew very little about the culture/caste system in India. One will learn a lot about about this by reading this book.

I was immediately engaged by the characters. I wanted to know more about their lives and situations right from the beginning. I have often puzzled over arranged marriages. I have never been able to imagine myself in a culture where your future spouse is arranged by your parents. As former high school teacher when my classes were reading Romeo and Juliet, I used to ask my students if they could imagine the spouse their parents would select for them. Every time I asked the question was met with groans and generalized expressions of nausea. In all cases, my students thought their parents would choose the least eligible candidate as far as their personal happiness was concerned.

I finished reading The Henna Artist within two days of receiving it, but I hesitated writing the review to be sure I gave it the justice it deserved. Simply speaking, I loved it and was very sorry to see it end. I am looking forward to participating in the discussion because I am interested in other people's viewpoint on some of the plot turns. I will not mention those here however because they definitely would be "spoilers" for those who have not yet read the book.

My single criticism revolves around the inclusion of many Hindi words and phrases. Many (though not all) are included in an index in the back of the book. I found it very frustrating to constantly look up meanings. It severely disrupted the continuity of the novel. About half way through the book, I gave this up and tried to figure out from context. I think this would be a better book if this was remedied in an edit. However, I loved learning about India and its culture, and all the henna art stuff. It was a totally enjoyable new immersion.


Excellent Book
I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy of this book through BookBrowse and the publisher. Thank you. I will comment during the discussion when it opens up. A perfect read!

Kimberly Caipa

The Henna Artist
Beautifully detailed, the journey of Lakshmi, The Henna Artist transports the reader into 1950’s India, engaging all of your senses. When Lakshmi escapes an abusive husband from an arranged marriage she uses her strength, wisdom and knowledge of herbal remedies to build an intricately woven life with the Indian elite as a henna artist. I struggled not to rush through this page turning adventure as to savor it like one of Lakshmi’s treats with a warm cup of chai tea.

Jayne Dough

The Henna Artist; a compelling new novel by a new author!
I loved this novel for the compelling characters and delightful storytelling. It took me thousands of miles away to a place I’ve never been but that I could see, hear, taste and smell so clearly! I was sorry to see it end. I just wanted to live in that world.

Lakshmi is someone I wish I knew. I felt she would help me solve anything that was troubling me. She would listen and paint henna on me and tell me everything was going to be okay. I just loved the character and her work with the “ladies” of Jaipur.

I didn’t know anything about henna when I started reading this book. Had not idea that the art was thousands of years old, that it heals, that it’s impermanent, unlike tattoos. Loved learning all that stuff and way it’s woven into the story of a henna artist who is making a life for herself outside of cultural boundaries. If you like learning about ages-old crafts and natural rituals and traditions, you’ll love this book

AJ Bunuan

From the first few pages of the Henna Artist I knew at once that Alka Joshi had a true gift as a writer. She brought a part of the world unknown to me fully alive.

I sped through the pages eager to follow Lakshmi's efforts in becoming a woman of independence and self sufficiency.

The Henna Artist is a brilliant first novel from a writer whom I shall look forward to reading further captivating stories.

Bradley J. Owens

Alka Joshi's "The Henna Artist" is an evocative and engaging read
The Henna Artist is a beautifully realized and evocative novel set in mid-century India after independence.

The heroine, Lakshmi, flees her small village, and an abusive marriage to create a new life for herself in the larger city of Jaipur. A henna artist, healer, and cunning businesswoman, she finds her first clients among Jaipur's prostitutes. Just as she begins to gain success and make her reputation in the houses of the wealthier, and more discerning, Jaipur women, her plans are interrupted by the arrival in Jaipur of the husband she abandoned, and a younger sister that she didn't know she had.

I loved reading about this time in India's long history, the energy and excitement of a newly-independent nation, and the range of characters - from prostitutes to Maharanis to Lakshmi's young assistant, Malik, to a singularly charming talking parrot, Madho Singh.

Joshi has an understanding, and connection, to this place and period of history, and her depth of knowledge, skillful plotting and period descriptions make this novel an engaging and enthralling read.

...1 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Alka Joshi Author Biography

Alka Joshi was born in India and raised in the U.S. since the age of nine. She has a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from California College of Arts and runs an advertising and marketing agency. She has lived in France and Italy and currently lives in Pacific Grove, California, with her husband. The Henna Artist is her first novel.

Instagram: @thealkajoshi
Facebook: alkajoshi2019
Twitter: @alkajoshi

Author Interview
Link to Alka Joshi's Website

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