Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own.
Rich in detail and bright with tastes and textures, The Henna Artist is a fabulous glimpse into Indian culture in the 1950s. You’ll notice certain remnants of British colonization, and you’ll see how Western culture permeates Jaipur. Throughout her first novel, Alka Joshi explores the complex relationships of women in India, offering an introduction into the caste system that separates and defines people, and comments on the often invisible yet deeply important labor that’s deemed 'women’s work' ... Joshi’s prose is rhythmic and alluring, and her characters are multidimensional and alive. This is a novel of hope, ambition and healing.
... moves at a comfortable, luxurious pace. Most of the time, the story flows beautifully, sweeping the reader away in a phantasmagoria of coins and parrots and mouthwatering food. Joshi’s storytelling is engrossing, and minutes fly by in the world she has built. Sometimes, however, her prose drifts towards florid tics ... And there are elisions and incongruities in dramatizing the caste system in 1950s India, particularly as it relates to women. It’s a mistake to read this as straight historical fiction; to write about caste in a credible or thoughtfully imagined way would be to write more of cruelty and injustic ... India’s ongoing difficulties with caste and religious identity are part of the reason the country finds itself in turmoil today; the effect this novel generates, however, is analogous to reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind while a righteous Black Lives Matter protest is under way ... The novel has only an approximate relationship with the reality of the age in which it’s set, but it’s smoothly plotted and satisfying. Lakshmi Sastri is a relatable character readers will want to root for ... an amiable and entertaining debut novel about an important theme — balancing family with personal ambition — that allows readers to escape into a fantasy teeming with sensory pleasure.
Set in the 1950s, just eight years after India’s independence from Britain, this lush novel reveals the intimate lives of India’s elite while reckoning with the hardscrabble lot of the people who served them. Lakshmi’s sister soon learns her own hard lesson about the entitlement of the upper classes, a lesson that threatens the independence Lakshmi has slowly earned for herself. Joshi has constructed a bewitching glimpse into the not-so-distant past with a tough heroine well worth cheering on.