The Henna Artist

Alka Joshi. Mira, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7783-0945-1
Joshi’s eloquent debut follows a sought-after henna practitioner in postindependence Jaipur, India. Lakshmi Shastri survives a harsh childhood in rural Ajar by running away from an abusive, arranged teenage marriage. Determined to make something of herself, Lakshmi parlays her talent for original henna designs and herbal remedies into a successful business, offering henna to high-caste women and discreetly selling contraceptive tea to men with mistresses, including a man named Samir. After her estranged husband tracks her down years later, in 1955, with Lakshmi’s just-orphaned, 13-year-old sister, Radha, Lakshmi is surprised to learn she has a sister and devastated by the death of their parents, who were shamed after her departure. Lakshmi had saved to bring them to Jaipur, hoping to earn back their respect. Instead, Lakshmi takes in Radha, whose carefree interest in boys threatens to damage Lakshmi’s reputation and years-long struggle for independence. When faced with Samir’s vengeful wife, Lakshmi must come to terms with the effect of her actions on others. And after Radha becomes pregnant, Lakshmi gains an opportunity to put her family first. 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. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/13/2019
Release date: 03/10/2020
Genre: Fiction
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