Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Henna Artist

 I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Alka Joshi.   It was principally set in Jaipur, India in the 1950s.  It is fascinating how Lakshmi had reinvented herself after fleeing her husband in a village.   She applied the knowledge her Saas (mother-in-law) taught her on how to use natural remedies for ailments. She also developed her artistic talents into masterful henna artistry and mandala designs.  Her business relationship with Samir Singh opened doors into his wife's social circle and allowed her to develop her business.  These relationships demonstrated the caste system at work as well as the different beliefs and professions deemed acceptable within each caste.  Lakshmi is from the Brahmin's which is one of the highest castes but her status as an estranged wife is a secret that keeps her from developing her relationships in society as fully as she would normally be able to do.

Joshi captures the tenuous relationship between Lakshmi and the wealthy ladies.   Also the story addresses the maneuverings of an arranged marriage between 2 prominent families that allows them both to improve their business and social standings.  It discusses the idea of marrying for love versus an arranged marriage.  It also talks a bit about dowries and the arrangements of marital residences relative to the parents.  

The book addresses unwanted pregnancies, infertility and the influence of spiritual  advisors that impacts the Maharaja, his family and familial decisions. Be advised there discussions/ plot lines having to do with termination of pregnancy through herbal concoctions so this may be disturbing to some readers.  The tradition of multiple wives and concubines are addressed briefly as well.   All in all it is a fascinating overview of the culture of India from 60 or so years  ago.

Additionally, their are relationship struggles between Lakshmi and her sister Radha as they become acquainted and settle into a sibling relationship while also being a custodial situation.   Radha experiences many of the typical teen adjustments but they are magnified by being an villager who finds herself a scholarship student at a prominent school.   This disparity only exacerbates her ability to fit in.  How she and Lakshmi handle the situation with the help of auntie Kanta is an interesting take on the timeless theme adolescent assimilation.  

All in all I enjoyed this book and can recommend it to those interested in reading historic fiction based in India.     


The Henna ArtistThe Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating story full of culture and growth

This story was layered with characters and relationships that were both frustrating and wonderful. It was amazing to see Lakshmi develop her relationship with he sister Radha and Malik. The book showed some aspects of the caste system and socioeconomic differences specific to India but global as well. The growth of the characters and their realization of what is important is well written and powerful. I found myself hoping for happiness for the good people and forgiveness for those who need it

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Challenge Prompts

The Challenge Prompts I will use this for are:  

  1. Library Love  #LibraryLoveChallenge  Book #62
  2. Beat the Backlist #BTB2021  #48 bought it for the cover
  3. Virtual Mount TBR #VirtualMountTBR2021   Book #68
  4. Back List Reader  #Backlistreader  Book #81
  5. Historic Fiction  #histficreadingchallenge   Book #10
  6. PopSugar #popsugarreadingchallenge #43. The book on your TBR list with the prettiest cover
  7. Around the Year in 52 Books #7 A book that fits a prompt suggestion that didn't make the final list -- A book where the protagonist adheres to a religion that is not your own
  8. 52 Book Club  #the52bookclub2021   #44 Includes A Garden
  10. Uncorked Reader #UncorkedReading2021  May – Book Set In India
  11. Book Voyage  #bookvoyagechallenge  Yes Southern Asia
  12. Unruly Reader Bingo  #3 eye catching

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