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The Henna Artist: A Novel

The Henna Artist: A Novel

by Alka Joshi

Narrated by Sneha Mathan

Unabridged — 10 hours, 56 minutes

Alka Joshi
The Henna Artist: A Novel

The Henna Artist: A Novel

by Alka Joshi

Narrated by Sneha Mathan

Unabridged — 10 hours, 56 minutes

Alka Joshi

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


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.)

From the Publisher

Romantic, old-time Rajasthan leaps to life in the skilled hands of Alka Joshi. The Henna Artist brims over with richly drawn customs, locations, and characters. I can hardly wait for Alka Joshi’s next masterpiece.”
—Sujata Massey, internationally bestselling author of The Satapur Moonstone and The Widows of Malabar Hill

“Rich in detail and bright with tastes and textures, The Henna Artist is a fabulous glimpse into Indian culture of the 1950s.”—Bookpage, Starred Review

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

"Vibrant characters, evocative imagery, and sumptuous prose create an unforgetable tale."—Christian Science Monitor

“Joshi has constructed a bewitching glimpse into the past with a tough heroine well worth cheering on.”—Booklist

"The Henna Artist is a bold, ambitious, beautifully written novel about India in the decade after independence, and about class, identity, love and deceit. The broad cast of characters will etchthemselves into your psyche." —Tom Barbash, author of Stay Up With Me

"Fantastic, so evocative and beautiful and full of life and light.... The Henna Artist is detailed and sumptuous, vivid in its characters and deeply satisfying in its storytelling."—Leah Franqui, author of America for Beginners

"Alka Joshi's superb first novel is unforgettable.... Read this book slowly and savor it: Every page is rich with intricate pleasures for both the mind and the heart."—Anita Amirrezvani, author of The Blood of Flowers

"Like a brilliant, magical kaleidoscope, bursting with color, The Henna Artist kept me riveted from start to finish."—Lauren Belfer, NYT bestselling author of After the Fire and City of Light

"Everything a great novel needs is here: The protagonist balancing impossible burdens with her bountiful talents; the many other characters, each so colorful and complex, each necessary to the intricate and delicate plot, Such a satisfying novel!"—Sandra Scofield, author of The Last Draft

"Alka Joshi's debut novel is a richly drawn design of love and the many hungers that drive human beings...a lush, gorgeous journey that any reader will be sorry to see end."—Erin McGraw, author of The Good Life and The Seamstress of Hollywood

"The Henna Artist is a delicious, old-fashioned tale about timeless heartaches. There's something elemental and mythic about Lakshmi and her knowledge of spices, roots, oils, and barks that drew me into the kind of world I gladly lived in when reading fairy tales as a child, a place inhabited by powerful queens, talking birds, magical drinks, orphans, sad princesses, clever servants, and dangerous poisons. I'm in awe of Joshi's storytelling and a little jealous of the character who winds up with the talking bird. “Namaste!” as he says. “Bonjour! Welcome!”—-Laura McNeal, author of The Practice House

Library Journal


DEBUT In the mid-1950s, India is transitioning from British rule to independence, and the caste system is firmly in place. Lakshmi has escaped an abusive marriage in her small hometown and built a successful henna business in Jaipur, serving many of the city's wealthiest women. Although she is well-liked and her intricate designs are sought after by the elite, she is careful not to overstep class boundaries. When she is suddenly made responsible for her 13-year-old sister—whom she only recently learned existed—Lakshmi's carefully ordered world is turned upside down. Impulsive, impractical, and innocent, Radha is Lakshmi's opposite in nearly every way, but the sisters must learn to trust each other or they could lose everything. Joshi's story of a country and people in transition is filled with memorable characters, some kind, some cruel. VERDICT An uplifting tale that highlights the power of family. For fans of Shobha Rao's Girls Burn Brighter and the novels of Kristin Hannah. [See Prepub Alert, 9/16/19.]—Portia Kapraun, Delphi P.L., IN

Product Details

BN ID: 2940172924163
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/04/2022
Edition description: Unabridged

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