The Henna Artist
For fans of Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows and Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us, Alka Josh’s The Henna Artist by is lushly-rendered, emotional book club fiction set in post-Raj 1950s Jaipur about a young woman struggling to shape her own destiny in a world pivoting between the traditional and the modern.
After fleeing an arranged marriage as a fifteen year old to an abusive older man, Lakshmi Shastri steals away alone from her rural village to Jaipur. Here, against odds, she carves out a living for herself as a henna artist, and friend and confidante to wealthy, upper caste women. Surviving by her wits and talents, she shares her knowledge and keeps their secrets in a delicate balancing act amid the changing 1950s social mores brought about by Indian Independence. Vulnerable to opinion and innuedo, at any point her intentions might be misunderstood, and she could fall prey to a damaged reputation or worse. Still Lakshmi manages to save to build a house with the dream of bringing her aging parents here to live with her and redeem herself in their eyes. Then one day her ex-husband arrives in town seeking her out with a girl in tow, a sister she did not know she had. Her sister is both passionate and reckless by nature, and all of a sudden the caution that Lakshmi has carefully cultivated is threatened, along with her livelihood. But she preseveres, and in doing so manages to lift up the others around her with her success.
Lakshmi’s tenacity and spirit see her join the ranks of other brave women of historical fiction, such as Farough Farrokhzad in Jasmin Darznik’s Song of a Captive Bird.With gorgeous prose and urgent themes, the novel will captivate readers of Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighter, and those who seek a narrative both compelling and necessary.
"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 "Rich in detail and bright with tastes and textures, The Henna Artist is a fabulous glimpse into Indian culture of the 1950s."--Bookpage, Starred Review "Eloquent debut...moving... Joshi masterfully balances a yearning for self-discovery with the need for familial love." -Publishers Weekly "Vibrant characters, evocative imagery, and sumptuous prose create an unforgetable tale."--Christian Science Monitor "Joshi has constructed a bewitching glimpse into the past with a tough heroine well worth cheering on."--Booklist "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 "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 "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 "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
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