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The Henna Artist: A Novel
by Joshi Alka

Published: 2020-03-03T00:0
Hardcover : 368 pages
65 members reading this now
133 clubs reading this now
11 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 10 of 10 members
A NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER

A REESE WITHERSPOON x HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB PICK

“Eloquent and moving…Joshi masterfully balances a yearning for self-discovery with the need for familial love.”—Publishers Weekly

Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s ...

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Introduction

A NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER

A REESE WITHERSPOON x HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB PICK

“Eloquent and moving…Joshi masterfully balances a yearning for self-discovery with the need for familial love.”—Publishers Weekly

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.

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…

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.

Editorial Review

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Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

From book club chat:

Did you know about this book prior to Reese selecting it for her book club? What are your initial thoughts about the story?

In her author’s note, Alka said that she wrote this novel for her mother and reimagined her existence as Lakshmi who creates a life for her own. Let’s talk about the author’s choice to turn a personal story into a reimagined fictional one.

What are some of the key areas that you learned regarding about Indian culture in the 1950s?

There’s a lot that is discussed about life after India gained independence from Britain. The beginning of the novel Lakshmi says, “Independence changed everything. Independence changed nothing.” Let’s talk about what we think she meant by that.

A big theme of the novel is having the freedom of choice. Initially Lakshmi is denied this when she’s forced to marry the abusive Hari. Once she escapes this marriage, she’s able to make a living working as an henna artist for wealth women while also providing tea sachets to women for a host of reasons including for fertility as well as abortion. Let’s talk about the theme of freedom as it relates to Lakshmi’s story.

Lakshmi’s sister Radha has a very hard upbringing as her family was shamed when Lakshmi fled her marriage and the village. Women in the village gave Radha the cruel nickname of the “bad luck girl.” Let’s talk about how Radha eventually overcame that negative image that others created for her.

There seems to be a struggle to find a balance between tradition and modern during this era in India. Let’s talk about this.

Why do you think Lakshmi and Radha had such a volatile relationship for most of the story? What was the driving force for their relationship to improve?

What are you thoughts about Samir and Lakshmi? Do you think he cared about her or was she just another woman to him? What did you think about the fact they eventually did sleep together?

Lakshmi’s dreams all lie into her a house that she is trying to pay for herself. She believes that this is a symbol of her independence. But yet, there’s one wrong thing after another. Why do you think this house became such a burden for her? What did she learn by letting go of this house?

Radha, at age 13, gets pregnant by Ravi who is Samir and Parvati’s son. Lakshmi is horrified and Kanta believes that introducing Radha to American film and different kinds of romance literature proved to be a bad influence to Radha. Let’s discuss this storyline.

If there’s an antagonist in the novel, Parvati seems to be it. But she ends up helping Lakshmi with taking the house out of her hands, despite knowing that Lakshmi was intimate with Samir. Let’s talk about this decision by Parvati.

What did you think about the ending and how Lakshmi, Radha and Malik move together to the Himalayan foothills? Do you think her and Dr. Kumar will get together?

Suggested by Members

What's the point of the parrot to the story?
Why did Lakshmi sleep with Samir?
by lizblair (see profile) 10/28/21

caste system
independent woman
by [email protected] (see profile) 08/05/21

Do you think if Radha didn't show up that Lakshmi life would of turned out differently?
Do you think at the end of the book that Hari truly showed remorse?
What did you think of Parvati buying Lakshmi house at the end? Did she do it out of pity or our of respect
by [email protected] (see profile) 12/20/20

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur
by [email protected] (see profile) 08/05/21
This is the sequel to The Henna Artist. Well written and explores some of the other characters from the first book while also following a mystery of sorts. Alka Joshi is just a great story teller!

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by realtorpam (see profile) 10/31/21

Loved this book. Loved the characters

 
by renarr (see profile) 10/30/21

 
  "The henna artist paints a picture "by lizblair (see profile) 10/28/21

The henna artist paints a collage of designs, all the characters are connected,

 
  "Captures your imagination"by [email protected] (see profile) 08/05/21

Brings the reader into the world of India just following their independence from Great Britain and follows the life of a woman making it on her own among the elite of the caste system a very rare subject... (read more)

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