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The Jaipur Trilogy #1

The Henna Artist

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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.

384 pages, Paperback

First published March 3, 2020

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About the author

Alka Joshi

4 books3,605 followers
There comes a point in every daughter's life when she begins seeing her mother as a person separate from her family, someone who has an identity outside of motherhood. That was the moment I began re-imagining my mother's life, and that re-imagining became THE HENNA ARTIST. I was born in Rajasthan, India, and moved with my family to the U.S. when I was nine. Even after graduating from Stanford University, and working in advertising and marketing, I never considered becoming an author. But taking my mother to India in her later years changed all that. In 2011, I got my MFA in Creative Writing from the California College of Arts in San Francisco, California. It took 10 years, a lot of research, and many trips to India to complete my debut novel, and I'm thrilled to share my writing and publishing process on YouTube: http://bit.ly/alkajoshi
I live on the Monterey Peninsula with my husband and two misbehaving pups, so let me know if you're going to be in the neighborhood.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 13,422 reviews
Profile Image for Smitha Murthy.
Author 2 books263 followers
December 3, 2021
Update Dec 2021: This little note of mine on my experience with this book seems to have taken off in ways I never intended. To everyone who writes to me, please note that this is not a review. It's one person's very personal observation, and will never reflect anyone else's opinions about this book. Please read or support the author in other ways. But also, please allow the reader to have their say. That's what books should be. We read. We love the words. We love to talk about the experience. Anything as stuffy as a 'review' is not what I intended with this note. It shouldn't stop you from reading this book, although I respect the choices we make when doing so. I have enjoyed the lovely comments, and even more so, from the ones who loved the book. I can only wish you joyful reading experiences - let's read them all, yo!


I have done this again. Not really fallen for a book that everyone seems to be raving about. But see - I am from South India. We don’t really go around applying henna for fun, on occasions, to get pregnant or arouse desire in our spouses. The art of henna itself is far removed from my life. That’s not why I struggled with this book.

It’s just that I have a feeling this book is written for that white woman who finds India ‘exotic’ and swoons at its ‘spirituality.’ It’s not written for the Indian audience who knows that India is also the nation of 10,000 startups, sleek bustling offices, and more technology than you can dream of. Show me that book now coming from the US! But it won’t sell. We have to show India with its drains of sewage, the Maharanis and their glittering lifestyles, and the prostitution. No wonder the West laps it up.

I found the narrator, Lakshmi Shastri, a henna artist who reads Dickens and Jane Austen, rather unbelievable. Her explanations on what Indians do and don’t do seem written for that white woman audience. She has a sister who I would have thrown out if it were me, so annoying is she. The one saving grace is that Lakshmi is a self-made woman who leaves her husband, sleeps with her client’s husband, then gets irritated when the client gets upset (!), and is quite the nod to American individualism.

Overall, I was annoyed with the book. But don’t take it as a rating for the book. It’s a reflection of my affair with the book. When it comes to books, I sleep around a lot with them. This affair didn’t last well or long.

Pros: The prose flows. Beautifully written and engrossing. A unique setting of post-Independence India just finding its feet.
Profile Image for Katie B.
1,294 reviews2,965 followers
February 5, 2020
I don't get the opportunity to travel much anymore so I kinda have to rely on books to take me to places I might not get the chance to ever visit. I've read a few fiction books with India as the setting and what first caught my interest about this one is it takes place in the 1950s. The author did a phenomenal job in making me feel like I was transported to this time and country and the main character, Lakshmi, is someone worth getting to know in my opinion. Very glad I got the chance to read this one.

At the age of seventeen, Lakshmi escaped her abusive marriage and headed to the city of Jaipur. She's worked hard as a henna artist for quite a few years. She's developed quite the reputation among her wealthy clients with her artistry and has managed to scrimp and save enough money to own a home. Work still needs to be completed on the house and that means Lakshmi must keep on working to pay off her debts. Her husband tracks Lakshmi down and brings with him quite the surprise, Radha, a thirteen year old girl who is the sister Lakshmi never knew she had. The new and better life Lakshmi worked so hard for threatens to come crashing down with this new development.

First of all, I admit I was a bit worried when I started the book and saw there was a section for the cast of characters. Usually that indicates there are going to be so many characters it can be confusing to the reader and therefore you need a cheat sheet. However, other than a few names here and there, I didn't even find myself flipping back and forth as it was pretty easy to keep everyone straight in my mind. On a related note, the glossary of terms in the back for different Indian words and phrases was pretty helpful. Within the story, italics were used for the different words that appeared in the glossary.

Lakshmi is one of the more stronger female characters I have come across in my reading recently. I thought she was a character who was very easy to root for and I felt bad when it seemed like so many things beyond her control were causing problems in her life. I thought Lakshmi's non-henna work enhanced an already rich and layered story. There's so much here for a book club discussion as you have such things as the different social classes in India, differences in Western medicine and herbal remedies, women's roles in society in 1950s India, etc.. I really hope this book finds a large audience as I found it to be a worthwhile read.

I won a free advance copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway but was under no obligation to post a review. All views expressed are my honest opinion.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,535 reviews32.7k followers
January 27, 2021
i really enjoyed this, but once i read the authors note at the end, it made the book that much more meaningful. this story is an imagining of the life AJs mother could have lived, had she not entered an arranged marriage when she was a teenager.

its a tale of perseverance, history, self-worth, forgiveness, womanhood, and family. lakshmi is also a character worth reading about. i adored her hard work ethic and her determination to create the life she knows she deserves. she made is very easy for me to root for her the entire way.

but i will say i wish there was more about henna in this. i would have loved to read more about the tradition of henna, what the art means, and the background of it all. while doing henna is lakshmis job, its really only brought up as a way to explain how she meets people/makes money. i just thought there would be more of it considering the title, but it honestly didnt feel like a main focus in the story at all.

regardless, this is a wonderful historical fiction novel that will immediately carry to you to india in the 1950s.

4 stars
Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,157 reviews2,191 followers
March 30, 2023
Alka Joshi tells us the story of Lakshmi, who is a Henna artist in Jaipur in the 1950s, in this first book of The Henna Artist trilogy. She had to face a lot of hardships, including an abusive husband, to become a well-known Henna artist in Jaipur. The re-entry of her husband and a new sister totally disturb the balanced life that Lakshmi has been leading in Jaipur. How will Lakshmi tackle the obstacles she suddenly has to face in her life? The author tries to answer this question through this novel.

What I learned from this book
1) What are the three types of karmas in life?
We can see Lakshmi telling about the three types of karma in life that Saasuji once mentioned to her.
“Saasuji once told me there were three kinds of karma: the accumulated karma from all our past lives; the karma we created in this life; and the karma we stored to ripen in our future lives.”

2) What are all the differences between India before independence and India after independence?
The author mentions all the changes that happened to the people in India after independence. She also says how the outlook toward Western countries changed after independence.
“What independence had changed was our people. You could see it in the way they stood, chests puffed, as if they could finally allow themselves to breathe. You saw it in the way they walked—purposefully, pridefully—to their temples. The way they haggled—more boldly than before—with the vendors in the bazaar.”

“Independence changed everything. Independence changed nothing.”

3) Who is a henna artist, and what are the problems faced by them?
The author is trying to mention the lives of henna artists through this novel. Henna artists make beautiful designs using dye made from the henna tree. Henna can be considered as temporary tattoos. The artistic skills of the people applying henna will play a significant role in making the henna designs unique.

The author is trying to discuss the problems faced in the lives of henna artists.
“I felt my spirits lift. I would leave the map of my life here, in Jaipur. I would leave behind a hundred thousand henna strikes. I would no longer call myself a henna artist but tell anyone who asked : I healed, I soothed. I made whole. I would leave behind the useless apologies for my disobedience. I would leave behind my yearning to rewrite my past. My skills, my eagerness to learn and my desire for a life I could call my own - these were things I would take with me. They were part of me the way my blood, my breath, my bones were.”

My favourite three lines from this book
“If I had learned anything from them, it was this: only a fool lives in water and remains an enemy of the crocodile.”

“Women have their own reasons for needing to do difficult things.”

“People are more gullible and less compassionate than any of us want to believe.”

What could have been better?
Just check out this sentence from this novel.
“Kanta came from a long line of Bengali poets and writers; her father and grandfather had passed their time composing sonnets and organizing literary salons. “The only thing Jaipur women read is Readers Digest,” she’d once complained.”

That was a ridiculous statement. You also must remember that this same Jaipur hosts one of the biggest literature festivals in India. I have a few female friends from Jaipur who are excellent readers. I came to know that their parents and grandparents also love books.

It was irritating to read a character coming from a lineage of poets and writers talking about the whole women of Jaipur in such a judgemental and condescending manner.

India portrayed in these movies

and in books written by authors like Aravind Adiga are all not authentic India.

It is true that there is still poverty and corruption in India. But portraying India just as a land of poverty, corruption, and other unethical activities is unacceptable. We can argue that the author opted for a time period adjacent to that chosen by V.S. Naipaul in An Area of Darkness and is not mentioning contemporary India. Still, I felt sad to see such a portrayal of India in a novel written by an author of Indian ethnicity.

3.5/5 This novel has a strong plot that authors do not commonly discuss. The women-centric theme discussing the lives of strong women is written in a manner that evokes curiosity. Despite the negatives, Alka Joshi still managed to write a good novel that many people will love to read.

You can also follow me on
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Profile Image for Alex Black.
647 reviews46 followers
March 8, 2020
This whole book felt a little surface level. As much as I was curious about the story and where it would go, I never cared about the characters or felt invested in their lives. I always wanted more from the story and it felt liked it only scratched the surface of the emotions it could have had.

My favorite part of the story was Lakshmi's job, her role as Henna artist and abortionist, and how she helped people. I loved seeing the insight into the lives of the rich and how her Henna helped them as well as the poor and desperate and the different remedies she had. It was a fascinating look at Indian society in the 50s and the relationship between her and her clients was very well done.

But the story seemed like it drifted away from that quite a bit. Instead of delving deeply into Lakshmi's career, her relationships, or her younger sister's troubles, it felt like the book hit on every point briefly, just long enough to explain the issue without giving time to explore it. I think part of that was because of how fast paced the book was. It covers a whole year in just under 350 pages, and there aren't any large time jumps. It just sort of skims the trials and tribulations of their lives.

We don't actually get to see any of the characters' development, the easiest example being Radha, Lakshmi's younger sister. She shows up in the beginning as a village girl who's never left home, but at some point becomes confident in the city and rebellious against her sister. When did this happen? I have no idea. We didn't get to see any growth or change apart from Lakshmi giving her a list of instructions on how to act.

I didn't dislike this book, but I really did find myself struggling to care. I felt so distant from these characters and their lives. Nothing about this book hit me emotionally. Even when things got difficult for these characters, as they nearly always do, it felt almost clinical.

Overall, interesting story in theory and there was enough I enjoyed about the culture of the time to make it worthwhile, but it's not a book I'll be excitedly pushing on others. If it sounds interesting to you, I'd recommend picking it up, but I didn't think it was anything spectacular.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,850 reviews519 followers
February 13, 2021
I love it when a book introduces me to something new and teaches me something. I had never given any thought to the people who create the elaborate henna drawings on the hands and feet of an Indian woman for ceremonial occasions. This book is set in 1950s India and introduced me to Lakshmi who was a henna artist. Lakshmi had been forced to marry when she was 15. Her mother in law was a healer and she taught Lakshmi about folk cures and the properties of various herbs. After Lakshmi left her husband she established herself as a henna artist for wealthy women. The job included much more than painting, she was also part therapist/part masseuse and she provided herbal remedies including one that caused abortions. She was an independent woman who managed to save enough money to build her own house, until her younger sister appeared on her doorstep and changed both of their lives.

The details of the lives of these women, and the societal restrictions that they faced, were fascinating. The writing was very clear and contained. I was pleased to find that it did not have an obligatory romance. This is the author’s first book and I’d be happy to read her next one. 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews3,021 followers
May 4, 2021
There’s a whole classification of books I think of as “flog fiction.” You know the type, where reading them feels like you’re beating yourself with a stick all in the name of “literature.” These books often get described as “difficult yet powerful,” because the things that happen to the protagonists are so horrible it’s like torture turning each page for fear of what atrocities will lie ahead.

I expected The Henna Artist to be flog fic, but to my surprise it’s anything but. In fact, author Alka Joshi’s debut novel is the story of a woman, Lakshmi, in 1950s Jaipur who has taken destiny into her own hands. She works hard as a henna artist and herbalist to pay for the construction of her dream house and all the security it will provide. Sure, there are some difficult topics discussed, but none that outshine the powerful portrait of a strong, independent woman blazing her own trail.

The Henna Artist is the first novel of a planned trilogy, with The Secret Keeper of Jaipur slated for publication in June, 2021. It has already been optioned for a TV series starring Freida Pinto that is being described as a lush production akin to an “Indian Downtown Abbey.” Consider me signed up for both.

The audiobook of The Henna Artist is currently available on the Hoopla library app for immediate download.

Blog: www.confettibookshelf.com
IG: @confettibookshelf
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,205 reviews40.9k followers
February 25, 2022
This book took my soul captive and drag it to a marvelous journey taking place in Pink city, a unique place in Rajasthan named Jaipur… During your read, you smell all those herbs, visualize all those vivid colors, touch those exotic handcrafts, art pieces, jewelry and feel the soul of the city literally calling you! I felt like I was in an eccentric time travel!

It’s 50’s India: where the arranged marriages are forced for being a proper couple, abusive relationship patterns are considered as normal.
The story centered on 17 years old Lakshimi who is another victim of domestic violence,leaving her old life behind by moving to Jaipur, becoming an aspiring Henna artist. She works too hard to gain a respectful place, earning her customers full trust with her talented work, saving every penny to own the house of her own in near future.

But her husband’s sudden appearance along with her thirteen years old sister Radha changes everything. She’s so close to lose everything she’s worked so hard!

I have to say: don’t get intimidated by the list of long characters at the beginning of the book. When you read the chapters, you easily absorb their names, motives and traits easily.

This is absolutely so heartwarming story about dysfunctional marriage, dreams, sisterhood, friendship, customs, traditions and self discovery.

I actually berated myself a lot for skipping this book for a long time. I’m so happy to give it a chance. I’m still dabbing my eyes, checking my swollen face in the mirror! I did again! I became the winner of ugliest crier and most tear jerking person contest!

I highly recommend this who is open to take a realistic, sentimental, meaningful, heartwarming, intense journey to enjoy a great written women’s fiction!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews43 followers
July 31, 2020
I’m not sure what I could possibly add to the already wonderful reviews by Alka Joshi’s debut novel.
I purchased the ebook back in early March - before the pandemic lockdown - having no idea that it was a Reese Witherspoon Sunshine Book Club Pick.
Life and other books got in the way - as many readers understand too well, too.

A sweet birdie from India, gently reminded me to read “The Henna Artist”....[ for goodness sake, it’s time already].... and I did!

I was in India for almost a full year in the 1974....but this story takes place in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, in Jaipur, also known as Pink City.....the capital and largest city of the Indian state of Rajasthan. ( a vibrant city....a great place to shop for jewelry, fabrics, handicrafts, body oils, creams, spices, herbs, and other vibrant delightful divines).

Author, Alka Joshi ....[as many before me have said]...takes us on an alluring, full-of-life, passionate, spirited, and thoroughly engaging journey, in India.

Historical fiction at its best...culture, customs, art, traditions vs. the unorthodoxy modern life, challenges for women of the working class, abandonment of abortion as birth control, identity, escape of an abusive arranged marriage, family, (an engrossing sister relationship, romance, healing, solace, personal desires vs.family obligations, dissimulation, heart break, heart warmth, perseverance, courage, vivid experiential descriptions, wonderful sweeping cast of characters....( easy to remember), and marvelous adventurous storytelling.

I was a little late to this book party ....but I absolutely loved it.
This is another book that truly deserves all the praise it’s getting.

5 strong stars....Highly recommend it. ( as many other readers did for me).

Many thanks to readers before me....and congrats to our author - Alka Joshi - on her first - outstanding novel.

Hm.....tonight is Friday night date night ( watching ‘Soundtrack’ on Netflix) , ..... maybe we’ll pick up Indian cuisine for dinner tonight ( Paul’s favorite anyway)....chickpea curry, veggie biryani, daal, .... cauliflower and peas, rice, and some yummy Naan

Getting hungry? Me too!
Profile Image for Berit Talks Books.
2,019 reviews15.7k followers
August 13, 2020
Alka Joshi brings 1950s India to life with her lush and vivid writing. If you are someone like me who enjoys learning about other cultures and traveling to places you might never go, this is a can’t miss. The interesting well drawn characters and the captivating storytelling completely drew me into this clever tale. Sneha Mathan masterfully narrated this audiobook, really bringing a voice and an additional layer to this incredible story. With a book like this it is nice to have the audiobook because then you know how things are pronounced, however you don’t always know how things are spelled. There is a PDF that accompanies the audiobook that includes a list of the characters and a glossary. This made me a little nervous that there needed to be a character list, but I have to say I never needed to refer to it I never was confused.

1950s India 17-year-old Lakshmi escapes her abusive marriage and heads to Jaipur. In Jaipur Lakshmi establishes herself as a successful henna artist as well as a procurer of herbal remedies. She has even realize her dream of owning her own home, then her pass catches back up with her. Her estranged husband shows up with her 13-year-old sister Radha, A sister she did not even know she had. What ensues is a compelling tale of family, tradition, secrecy, revenge, and second chances.

Loved this book! Lakshmi was such an easy character to get behind. She was so strong, so smart, and so deserving. Her sister Radha on the other hand really frustrated me, I had to remind myself that she was just a teenager at times. There were many other extremely well drawn secondary characters some who I loved and some who I did not. I also found the herbal medicine in this book super fascinating and I liked how they combined it with traditional medicine in the story. This is one of those books that gives you a lot to think about. Filled with colorful characters and beautifully told this is a story that I will not soon forget.

This book in emojis: 🇮🇳 🖌 💰 🦜 🛺 🚂 🏔 🏥

*** Big thank you to Harlequin & Harper Audio for my gifted copy of this book. All opinions are my own. ***
Profile Image for Jayme.
1,141 reviews1,905 followers
July 26, 2021
Brew a Chai tea and immerse yourself in the vivid descriptions of the life of Lakshmi, the most requested Henna Artist in the vibrant 1950’s pink city of Jaipur. (Of course I googled it and was in awe of the beautiful city whose architecture is all painted a dusty pink hue, which signifies hospitality)

For more than five thousand years, intricate henna art has been used to adorn the body for celebrations to promote luck and happiness, with the most talented artists producing a deep vibrant dye, which will last longer on the skin, usually one to two weeks.

At 17 years of age, Lakshmi escaped an abusive marriage and fled with just her drawing ability and the healing skills she learned from her Saas (mother in law) and worked hard to become the most requested henna artist among the wealthy-keeping their secrets along with her own.

But her independent life will be threatened when her husbands tracks her down and introduces her to thirteen year old Radha-the sister she didn’t even know had been born after she fled.

Lakshmi is strong and ambitious and the conversations she has with her clients show how clever she and the other women all are, as they carefully negotiate for what they desire…

The descriptions of their traditions, rich in detail.

The prose is lyrical, and the Audible narration by Sneha Mathan was masterful-she even had to be the voice of a talking parakeet named Madho Singh. 🦜

I enjoyed listening and reading simultaneously as the book provided a list of the characters who appear, the story of Henna, an explanation of the Caste system in India and recipes, making the experience of reading the book one that was not only engaging but educational as well.

The author, Alka Joshi, wrote this book for her mother, who had an arranged marriage at age eighteen and three children by age 22-never having the opportunity to choose or not choose these things for herself and reimagined her life-as if she had.

It is book one of a three book series which will jump in time 12 years and 18 years respectively and I cannot wait to continue the journey! Book two was just released on June 22, 2021 and is titled “The Secret Keeper of Jaipur”.

A wonderful debut which I am so glad to have finally made time for! ❤️
Profile Image for Jen.
84 reviews259 followers
January 17, 2021
I absolutely loved reading this book. I got completely immersed in Lakshmi's world and felt that Alka Joshi appealed to all of my senses through her lyrical smooth writing. Lakshmi was a strong female protagonist who is brave and smart and admirable but also fallible and relatable. I loved how all of the characters wound together and enjoyed seeing different sides of their personalities through their relationships with others. I would highly recommend this book as a must read.

There is a character list and a glossary of Indian words and some recipes and I confess that I started out with the list open in front of me on the laptop while I read so that I would be able to keep track and was a bit nervous that there would be too many characters and I would be pulled out of the story trying to sort everyone out. That was not the case. Not long into the book, I closed my laptop and let the story tell itself.

1950's India and it's caste system are showed to us through Lakshmi and her sister and each of their journey's, from poverty to building an independent life. Lakshmi is a Henna artist and a herbalist and although seaming to float gracefully through many different castes, we see that her every action is quite calculated and careful to preserve her income and way of life.

The supporting characters are fully developed and as with all people, are all motivated differently, giving the book a depth that really stands out.

The imagery is so stunning and yet fluid to the story that it doesn't force itself on you, it envelops you.

I cheered for Lakshmi through trials and celebrations and when the story finished, I felt like I closed the door on a new friend that I would miss. Go read this book!!!!
Profile Image for Danielle.
809 reviews403 followers
August 1, 2021
This story was so vivid and lush. 😍 It captures your attention from the get-go, as you follow this woman doing henna for high society women in 1950’s India. The colors and designs are described and sound simply beautiful. ❤️ The struggle of women in that time and that country was certainly difficult. The “gossipers” could make or break your reputation, business and livelihood. 😔 Its a great story of strong willed women, sisterhood and survival.
Profile Image for Holly  B (Short break!).
816 reviews1,873 followers
September 2, 2021
A journey to Jaipur, India.

Lakshmi becomes a henna artist to the elite women in the city, painting their bodies with intricate patterns and rubbing away aches with lavender and clove oils. They trust her and her ways. Word gets around and her appointment book fills up.

One day something happens, rumors start, she begins to panic as her appointments cancel. She will need to come up with a plan or lose everything she has worked for.

Lakshmi wasn't a likable character for me (not sure if she was meant to be). She did several things that were questionable and shallow. Malik was my favorite, but wasn't a big part of the story. One of her clients was also intriguing and I wish I knew more about her. There is a big cast of characters to keep up with, many with minor roles.

A vivid setting with the background of India, enormous palaces, royalty, lush gardens, and much more. It was easy to visualize the women wearing their pastel colored sari's, and traveling in the rickshaws.

An enjoyable and fairly quick read for me. Recommend if you enjoy a family drama set in an exotic place.

Library loan / Read in August 2021
Profile Image for Brandice.
860 reviews
February 21, 2021
The Henna Artist follows Lakshmi, a 30 year old woman who fled her abusive marriage years ago to start over in Jaipur. She’s worked hard to become the most sought after henna artist there, with many wealthy clients. They trust her, as she keeps their secrets, but she’s also smart with an entrepreneurial mindset and working toward owning her own home.

Lakshmi is surprised when her younger sister, Radha, shows up unexpectedly — She’s been away from her former life so long, she didn’t realize she even had a sister. Lakshmi’s carefully crafted plans start becoming disrupted as Radha doesn’t always listen to her older sister.

I really liked Lakshmi and found it easy to root for her throughout the book. I enjoyed learning more about India during the 1950s and had no problem envisioning this story. So glad I finally read this one, I loved it!
Profile Image for Marialyce .
1,983 reviews716 followers
July 9, 2020
I am starting to think that the best way for me to enjoy a book is to go into it somewhat blind, for that is exactly what I did with this book.

Books that show how women of an earlier time made their way in what was a patriarchal world always make me realize the progress we have made in the direction of equality. Granted there is still a long road to travel, but we will get there.

At any rate, this story's setting is in India in the 1950s, right after the Raj has given up main control of the country. We meet a wonderfully endearing woman, who is strong and resilient. Lakshmi, was seventeen when she left her village determined to escape from an abusive husband and make her way in the world. She is goal oriented, success and money drive her forward. She, with the help of influential and wealthy Indian man, build a career that brings her into the homes and the confidences of the entitled and rich women of India. She learns their secrets but holds her own close to her heart.

Then as life seems to be turning in her favor, her husband reappears bearing a young girl who is Lakshami's young sister, a sister she never knew of.

Times change for Lakshami as she learns that being a sister to a young teenager is both challenging and a rebirth of sorts. As life intervenes in Lakshami's dream, she begins a journey that awakens her to the true meaning of a life well lead.

Wonderfully told, with the beautiful culture, sights, and smells of India, this story is easy to read and its allure is in telling a story that says that no matter which way life turns, it can bring you to a place where you will find the happiness you have been seeking all along.
Incidentally, at the end Ms Joshi tells the reader of the way that henna is made as well as including some recipes for dishes she spoke of in the story.
Profile Image for Nilguen.
201 reviews71 followers
March 14, 2023
My book is my castle!

That´s how I felt when reading this extraordinary novel that transported me to India in the 1950´s to accompany brilliantly well-developed characters on their individual journeys in life.

Lakshmi is a creative, fierce, intelligent woman who breaks the norm in India and represents the alternative life of women who were denied to make their own choices.

Alka Joshi also deals with historical incidents after the Indian Independence from Great Britain, whilst men and women feverishly pursued their place in society. In this context, Lakshmi will experience that it takes time to assert herself in a transforming nation.

Ultimately, this beautiful novel is an insightful exploration of the complexities of family, love and friendship.

Easy 5 stars!

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.


IG: nilguen_reads
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,348 reviews4,863 followers
January 18, 2022

3.5 stars

This novel is set in mid-1950s India, a few years after the sub-continent gained its independence from Great Britain. The main character, Lakshmi Shastri, is a twentysomething woman who fled from her arranged marriage thirteen years ago.

Lakshsmi recalls, "I could no longer endure my husband's beatings; the wounds that made me bleed; the words that cut me open; the mornings I could barely get up off the floor. And all for what? For the child I couldn't give him."

Before Lakshsmi left, her beloved Saas (mother-in-law) taught her how to use spices, herbs, plants, potions, and teas - as well as specially prepared foods - to heal wounds, treat illnesses, lessen anxiety, induce relaxation, aid in conception, prevent conception, induce abortion, and so on.

During Lakshmi's subsequent travels she learned to be a henna artist as well, and was eventually invited to the city of Jaipur by a rich businessman named Samir.

Samir's sponsorship helped Lakshmi become the henna artist for high-caste women in Jaipur, including his wife Parvati.

Lakshmi brings her supplies, as well as homemade treats, when she visits 'her ladies', and is credited with helping Parvati conceive her second son.

Lakshmi's sponsor Samir also functions as a sort of business partner, introducing her to clients who need her help to get pregnant, grow their hair, lighten their skin, etc. In fact Samir himself is a client, purchasing sachets that prevent his mistresses from conceiving children.

Lakshmi has worked very hard for the past decade, and used her earnings to build her dream house, bit by bit. The home is almost complete now, and Lakshmi looks forward to moving in and planting a large garden with medicinal plants and herbs.

Ever since Lakshmi left her village, she has longed to see her parents, who - in accordance with Indian culture - would have been shamed and ostracized by her behavior. Lakshmi regularly wrote her parents and sent money, but they never responded. Now that Lakshmi's house is almost complete, she sent cash for train tickets.....so her parents could join her in Jaipur.

Instead of Lakshmi's parents, her estranged husband Hari shows up, with a thirteen-year-old girl called Radha.

Radha says she's Lakshmi's sister, born after she left, and that their parents are dead. Lakshmi takes Radha under her wing, and immediately starts to convert the 'village girl' into a 'city girl' who dresses and behaves in a sophisticated manner. Lakshmi also starts teaching Radha about natural medicines, and arranges for Radha to go to school when the semester starts.

I don't want to say more because of spoilers, but I think it's fair to say that Radha - being a strong-willed hormonal adolescent getting her first taste of freedom - causes her share of trouble.

There's quite a bit of drama as the story unfolds, and a wide array of secondary characters. Most of the Indian men in this book don't come off too well. We meet an alcoholic, a wife-beater, a disgusting lecher, a ruthless builder, an entitled youth, a flagrant philanderer, and more. Some of the women also behave badly, but - from their point of view - it's mostly self-protection. Indian women (in the 1950s at least) were relatively powerless, and had to maneuver as best they could to protect themselves, their families, and their position in society.

Two of my favorite characters are Dr. Kumar - who wants to add natural remedies to his medical practice;

and Malik - a clever, hard-working, 8-year-old boy who makes himself Lakshmi's assistant.

Malik calls Lakshmi 'Auntie Boss' and skillfully maneuvers and manipulates (in a good way) to help himself and his employer. With an education, Malik could probably be Prime Minister of India.

To me, the information Alka Joshi includes about Indian customs, dress, food, marriages, ceremonies, castes, etc. is fascinating. Cerebrations that require women to be painted with henna include things like marriage, pregnancy, birth, baby naming, baby's first solid food, visits to a temple, moving into a new house, death, funerals, etc. This provides plenty of work for henna artists, especially talented ones with original designs.

The author also touches on castes in India, and I learned that high caste people aren't supposed to do jobs that require touching people's heads or feet; and high caste contractors can't built bathrooms, because of the 'unclean' association.

Brahmin wedding

The author doesn't say too much about lower castes, which aren't the focus of the book.

I enjoyed the novel, my major quibbles being that the plot is somewhat predictable and the book has too much of a fairy tale vibe. Still, this is a good debut novel, highly recommended.

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
453 reviews659 followers
November 12, 2020
Honestly, I saw the book cover, the title, and I was sold. I love to read anything that takes place in India or dives into Indian culture. I was on the longest wait from my library (always a good sign) and then I happened to find the audio on Hoopla so I jumped right in.

The story takes place in 1950's India in Jaipur. Lakshmi works as a henna artist, one that is highly sought after by the wealthy ladies of Jaipur. She's alone and working very hard for a new home that she is building. And one day, her 13 year old sister shows up on her door step. This would be a sister she did not know existed. Lakshmi was married to an abusive man who she ran away from ending up in Jaipur. Her family were outcasts due to the shame and her sister was shun (she was bad luck so said the gossip eaters). After the parents pass, Radha goes to find her sister Lakshmi and the story takes off. Lakshmi is a strong woman who has been on her own for some time, taking care of herself, doing what she must to survive. And her sister can throw that all away for her actions.

I really enjoyed this story. I liked hearing about the culture during the 50's, hearing about a 'single' woman working to support herself, the herbs and teas that Lakshmi used to help people, and the stress brought on by an arrival of a sister she didn't know existed. You can say this was a character study of one woman. The audio narration was great! I laughed each time the narrator voiced the 'bird' that was owned by of the ladies that Lakshmi served. I see there is a follow-on book coming next year picking up where this one left off and I can't wait. I'm very glad I read this and look forward to more from this author.
Profile Image for Pragya .
556 reviews148 followers
November 28, 2020
I picked this up from GR book award nominations section, saw the wonderful reviews and decided to go for it. It started off really well, then went downhill and never revived itself. I really just wanted to finish reading it after a point.

I was confused about all those raving reviews before realizing that this book was written keeping in mind the international audience and what sells to them. It was not meant for Indian readers who would find the loopholes and would not be swayed by the ayurvedic remedies and the cultural overwhelm and would be able to realize the hurried yet not real plot and the stunted character development. It felt like there was a rush to reach the happy ever after ending and so it was.

The characters and situations were often implausible. Several times, I found myself shaking my head. And those idioms had me gritting my teeth, half the time they were just inserted where they didn't even fit.

This book is meant to overwhelm an international audience making them believe they have got a glimpse of Indian culture, the truth is far from it. I was relieved to know I wasn't the only one who felt this way when I read some other reviews, not all of them by Indians. Some non-Indian readers also did see through the whole 'let me pitch this colorful, intense, surprise-me-at-every-page' India to them and they will be sold to the idea.

(I also do see a certain person commenting on low star reviews and questioning them. Just in case, she wants to do the same, be my guest but I will not be replying back. Are you the author in disguise or someone related to her? Do remember, people have varying opinions. Each to his own. Accept that and move on.)

This book really could have been so much more. The Henna Artist had potential but it didn't live up to it.
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
828 reviews258 followers
August 17, 2020
What a great debut!
This was very entertaining.
I love entering a different culture.
India is fascinating as is disturbing (all that poverty, violence against women and caste system - did you know that there are over 3k castes and 25k subcastes in India? - these topics are just highlighted in this book)
Although the writing is very simple, I was engaged from the very beginning and I was transported to the era and culture.
The storyline was absorbing and well developed/structured.
The only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars is because (I may have said exactly the same on previous reviews) I don’t like convenient coincidences, as it makes the world feels very small and predictable. But, predictable or not, I loved the conclusion.
Profile Image for DeAnn.
1,318 reviews
March 29, 2023
4 transport me to India stars

This one completely absorbed me and took me to 1950s India with rich and colorful descriptions of the sights and sounds. We meet Lakshmi, the Henna Artist of Jaipur. She’s built an amazing business for herself and is even having her dream house built. She’s sought after by all the ladies in town and might even get an invitation to the royal palace. She has an herbal medicine business on the side as well. This was a fascinating side story as most of these herbs were very effective.

Her life is about to change when her younger sister shows up – a sister she didn’t even know existed. Lakshmi fled an abusive husband years ago. She didn’t realize the devastation she left behind for her parents and sister. Her sister Radha has a lot to learn about the world and how it works. She might just undo all the hard work that Lakshmi has put into her business.

This one went in a different direction than I expected but I really liked how it ended and the journey into this time in India.

I got a copy of this one through BookBrowse and it is a great one to discuss. I think it would make a great book club book.
Profile Image for Provin Martin.
241 reviews32 followers
June 23, 2021
Lakshmi ran away from her home at 17. She’s now a 30 year old henna artist in India during the 1950’s. She has spent many years supporting herself in order to create the life she’s always wanted. She has done well enough to support herself and she sends money back home to her family. One of her employees wants to find a match for her boarding school son Ravi. Lakshmi is grateful to have the opportunity to arrange his marriage., and for the money it will provide her family.

Lakshmi is trying to be an independent woman, in a time when independence is not allowed for Women in India. She’s trying to build her own home so that she can bring her family to live with her. One day her estranged husband shows up with a young girl who he says is her Little sister. Is this young girl her punishment for leaving her family or a blessing that has been left behind by her parents. She also finds out at the same time that her parents are dead and that they never received the money she had been sending. Her mom burned every letter she wrote without opening it.

This book is steeped in Indian tradition putting you in India. Smelling the foods and visualizing the colors. I found it educated me on the Hindi culture and India’s caste system along with telling me a wonderful story that I will carry in my heart for years to come.

It is also a book about a relationship between two sisters separated by enough age that it is almost a parent/child relationship. Lakshmi only wants the best for her sister (that she didn’t even know existed). But her little sis is a rebel and soon they are both put into a dire situation. In the end Lakshmi must lose the life that she has built in order to get the life she never knew she wanted. A touching story that is sure to become a classic.
February 8, 2023
The Henna Artist transported me to an entirely different culture and time every time I picked it up! There was so much beauty in the descriptions of colorful mirrored saris, delicious samosas, and delicate artistry – but simultaneously an amazing exploration of how Westernization has impacted other cultures throughout time. Highly recommend this one! 🛕🐘🍲🦜🖤

After escaping from an abusive marriage and her rural village, Lakshmi makes her way to the thriving pink city of Jaipur, India in the 1950s. Using her wits, raw talent and dedication – she makes a name for herself as a renowned henna artist, free from the chains of her old life. One day, many years after her escape, Lakshmi is confronted with a young sister she never knew. Immediately taking on the role of sister/mother/provider all in a day – their choices forever alter Lakshmi’s life as a small family learning to trust each other.

- This story flowed so well, and the way The Henna Artist is written makes it VERY easy to understand the story's timeline and how cultural influences shaped the characters. (Also - I’m reading a thriller right now about serial killers in the 70s and how WWII spawned an entirely new generation of evil.. the world is falling apart, my friends. Pray to your God(s) and ask for all our salvation.)
- The ending was good for my soul. Characters got redemption and second chances many would consider beneath them or society would deem unworthy – and I always love those kinds of stories!
- Any story that asks us to look at imperfect characters who make really big mistakes.. it always makes me wonder where other people fall when reading these stories. If you’ve read this book… what were your thoughts on Radha? Lakshmi?
- I loved reading about herbal medicine in this book. MUCH too often, those things are looked down upon when folk remedies and holistic medicine may be the answers to so much more than modern medicine is willing to admit.

CHARACTER BUILDING: (If you read this book – come back and let me know your thoughts!!!)
- LAKSHMI: Lakshmi's capacity for resilience and love was the absolute best part of reading this book. Not only did she never shirk her responsibilities – she took on the responsibility of others without complaint. Plus – her entire love language is acts of service and I totally identified with that!

- RADHA: Have you ever read a character that truly made you realize you weren’t a child anymore? I completely understood everything Radha was going through and her motivations, but I could see every step of her mistakes. Her character perfectly portrays what many of us go through in losing our innocence/naivete when facing the world. Hers is a painful story to read, but also healing in many ways.

- MALIK: Understanding his role in the story, how his caste played a large part in his character etc., was so interesting. I’ve read a few other books where the Indian caste system was an integral part of the story, and it made me weep for these characters, who, while in their home country, would never have a chance to really further themselves or be seen as equals.

Many topics covered throughout this book are very hard to read. This book made me cry, and I had to stop reading sometimes to process the story.

- ‘Before independence, these objects had signified my ladies’ admiration for the British. Now, they signified their scorn. My ladies had changed nothing but the reasons for their pretense….only a fool lives in water and remains an enemy of the crocodile.’
- “We’re going to the seamstress. If we catch her early, she’ll be bargaining on an empty stomach.” – Love a woman who makes her way by being cunning and thrifty!!!
- ‘Success was ephemeral – and fluid – as I’d found out the hard way. It came. It went. It changed you from the outside, but not from the inside.’

- Found family (One of the better examples of this I’ve seen across religious/socio-economic divides.)
- HEA ending ( I don’t want to ruin it for you, but this book is highly emotionally provoking – and it’s worth finishing!)
- Trigger Warnings: This is one of those books that will be hard for some women to read. Cheating, horrific spousal abuse, abortions, attempted s3xual assaults, etc are all thematically explored throughout this book. (Please note - I’m absolutely not getting into a debate on these topics. Goodreads is not the place for it. 🖤)
Profile Image for Debbie W..
726 reviews493 followers
May 14, 2021
Author Alka Joshi brings the richness of India to life in this heartwarming story as we follow Lakshmi's (the title character's) personal successes and struggles during this country's transition between traditional and modern lifestyles from 1955 to 1956. My senses came alive through Joshi's vibrant descriptions of cultural aspects such as the food, language, fashion and mannerisms.

Her biggest gift to this story; however, is the depth of her characters. None of them are perfect (except maybe Malik - I loved him!), but that's what makes them so human. When things went well, I felt satisfaction; when problems arose, I was eager to find out how Joshi would solve them.

Very well-written debut novel which was convincingly narrated by Sneha Mathan!

Don't worry - her sequel The Secret Keeper of Jaipur is on my WTR list!
May 29, 2023
OMG OMG OMG - This book this is not my review, it is a precursor was amazing...I read Book Three first, by mistake, and now (at 75% 100%) it feels like it was not a mistake at all but, rather, fortuitous. Reading this as a Prequel is stunning me. Is this the same Rahda that we read about so many years later in Book Three? This is the epitome of how an immature thirteen year old dreamer (Book One), metamorphoses into a mature, capable woman (Book Three).

So, now for some order in this review…The Henna Artist introduces the reader to a young girl recently orphaned, Rahda, aka/the bad-luck girl. She is 12 years old and penniless living in the schoolmaster’s hut, where her father served as teacher before he committed suicide and his mother was permitted to remain on until her death, not long after. Rahda and her parents were Fallen Brahmins, reduced to the ridicule of all the neighbors in their community, after an older sister, Lakshmi (who she never met), fled an arranged marriage, abandoning her husband, Hari, to the humiliation of her parents. Now, an orphan, Rahda has no place to go and must look for her older, estranged sister, Lakshmi. Rahda manages to find Hari who doesn’t seem to have a problem finding Lakshmi, and when he sees that Lakshmi has made a name and career for herself as a Henna Artist, proceeds to extort money from her. Quite the charming fellow, Hari believed he was entitled to extort his wife for depriving him of his personal, live-in, punching bag. Hari has no major role in the book, so I will put the reader’s mind to rest, he reforms and becomes a good guy (off-stage). With her younger estranged sister, showing up her doorstep, Lakshmi’s life is up-ended. Although Lakshmi embraces Rahda and serves not only as older sister but parent figure, Rahda is willful and full of teenage angst. She especially resents her older sister’s meddling in her love life. Lakshmi’s carefully groomed existence, everything she has worked hard to build over the previous decade, soon collapses around her in a dramatic turn of events. Will she rise to the occasion?

I am overwhelmed as I am exposed to the raw emotions of Lakshmi, who has experienced more than a few bumps along her path to independence, and who knows how to maneuver and avoid a tsunami of cataclysmic proportions. She is strong and resilient, even while overcome with emotion, guilt, determination, self-preservation... I absolutely love this character.

(Back to...) Book Three is a good story with a MC, the grown-woman Rahda, who has evolved from a naive and foolish young girl into a woman with a husband, children and career - in no small measure, thanks to her older sister Lakshmi. Book Three briefly describes how Lakshmi "dealt" with Rahda's "situation" (should I have used the word maneuvered or perhaps, manipulated?), thereby affording Rahda the opportunity to take control over her life, instead of being destined to a dead-end future, which would have inevitably taken control over her. The Henna Artist fills in the gaps, with each book working independently, describing the circumstances from different points of view.

The Henna Artist is a strong character-driven novel which left me gobsmacked (at only 75%). I don't need to finish to know that this is going to be Five Stars+++ for me.

...Made it to the finish line - Five Stars+++. I'm now racing through Book Two (which will be Book Three for me...LOL). I should have paced myself, where will I find my next 5+++Star read?
April 8, 2023

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THE HENNA ARTIST reminds me a lot of some of the historical fiction I read when I was a younger woman, back in the days when people didn't care quite as much about being PC. These stories were often filled with trauma and suffering, but the triumph of these stories was the strength of the women they were about, even if the times that they were written constrained how they could express or show that strength. And look, I know this is a sensitive point with a lot of readers who want everything to be black and white, but history and reality aren't like that. Bad people are human beings like the rest of us and they have moments of nuance. It seems irresponsible to condemn people for portraying that IN FICTION. Not every main character has to be an anachronistically ardent crusader for social justice to be considered worthy or strong. (I say this as someone who is very liberal by the way.)

I think people who enjoy historical fiction like IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, SNOWFLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN, and THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL will love this, because it does that thing where the author just lets the characters tell their own stories without trying to convey some sort of heavy-handed morality tale and lets the characters be a bunch of bitches if they feel like it (and boy do they). Lakshmi, the heroine, does things that benefit others-- and she has a mostly kind heart-- but she's also in it for herself, and sometimes this makes her cruel, and sometimes this makes her selfish.

Lakshmi, a woman from the Brahmin caste who has become a little disgraced as a henna artist because she touches hands and feet which are considered to be unclean, is a woman who knows what hell looks like. She escaped her abusive husband and turned to henna-ing because she didn't want to sell her body. Against all odds, she succeeded. And the high demand for her art has proven extremely lucrative, especially when her connections put her in the path of the royal family. However, her job is filled with secrets because her side hustle could prove to be ruinous: she provides the husband of one of her clients with prophylactic sachets to help prevent pregnancies (having started out her art in the pleasure districts working for whores). Just in case that wasn't enough drama, Lakshmi also finds herself with a new sister, Radha, that she never knew about after leaving her parents. Radha is spirited and quick to anger, which, of course, ends up providing even more problems when a bitch has such big secrets to hide.

I thought this book was pretty good. It does a great job portraying the nuances of social politics and the concept of saving face. I also liked how all of the characters, including the "bad" ones, were portrayed as complex people with good and bad sides to them. Lakshmi wasn't always likable but you could see how circumstances hardened her and made her willing to do whatever it took to survive. Radha was less likable, and I found her very frustrating towards the end of the book, but she was also a very young character and lived in a fantasy land where she was desperate to be loved, and I could see how the dissonance between her own life and what she wanted could cause problems. This book is set in the mid-1950s in Jaipur so it was also cool to see all the '50s pop-culture references and Western influences juxtaposed against a country recovering from the trauma of British colonization.

Apparently I got this book as an ARC. I thought I had reviewed it because I remember vaguely reading and liking it before, but for whatever reason, I didn't post my review to Goodreads. Sorry about that.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

4 to 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Allison Faught.
305 reviews143 followers
May 26, 2021
Such a beautiful and heartfelt book!
I felt so calm reading this book because of the beautiful imagery. It was so relaxing reading this every morning to start my day and every night before bed. The scenes just sounded so beautiful.
The topics in this book are incredibly sensitive but I truly felt Joshi was tactful in building a story around them.
It took me a bit longer to read this than I had originally hoped since I kept flipping to the dictionary to learn (and relearn) what some of the foreign words meant. In hindsight, I wish I’d practiced the words beforehand to make the story read more fluid.
All in all, gorgeous story with wonderful characters.
Profile Image for da AL.
366 reviews363 followers
January 14, 2021
When's the last time you read something unapologetically pro-choice -- & that's as empowering as it is romantic? Me? Never. Can't wait for Joshi's next book! Wish there were more novels that discuss pro-choice issues head-on. Enchanting story set in 1950s India from women's point of view about the choices we're given and how much we can make with them. Audiobook narrator Sneha Mathan is marvelous!
Profile Image for La Tonya  Jordan.
289 reviews89 followers
December 20, 2020
A fabulous read. The life of Lakshmi path to contentment was not the road must traveled. India in 1955 after the removal of the British was a time were Indians were starting to feel proud within themselves. For Lakshmi is was a time for her to show her true worth. Getting the foundation of her craft as a henna artist and a healer in her tiny village of Ajar, she leaves an abusive arranged marriage to find her purpose and value in life knowing she deserved better.

In Jaipur, she is the henna artist to the wealthy and powerful. It is at this junction she becomes more ambitions and wants to use her knowledge to become a matchmaker for pay. This is where she would be arranging the marriages of the elite for power, appearance, and status. She wants her parents to see her accomplishments and live in the comforts of her hard work. And most importantly to forgive her for abandoning her marriage resulting in the embarrassment to her family.

This is when her thirteen year sister Radha enters her life. Lakshmi starts to unearth the person she has allowed to be buried for her accomplishments and ambition. Lakshmi will miss Samir, as will I. A fabulous well written novel of redemption. This novel reiterates the fact that wealth comes in many forms. A must read.


How could I explain men who knocked on the door in the middle of the night? Or women who had lovers outside their marriage?

He smiled at me. "Install WCs-hundreds of them. To a clerk a bribe; to a Brahmin a gift."

I realized that I seemed so pitiful to him that he, who had so little, was refusing the food I offered.

"Dr. Kumar said her baby had stopped breathing. Days ago. Her body was trying to get rid of it, but she tried to stop it from happening."
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