The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi: A Book review

Aug 17, 20202 comments

I was excited to grab a copy of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi , as I heard it is an own voice book and that has received so much attention recently. To be honest, it was about how often does an Indian tale so well received by the “whites”, right? So let us get on to the review shall we?

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About the book

Henna artist by Alka Joshi Cover

Book Name: The Henna Artist

Author: Alka Joshi

Genre: Fiction – Drama, History

Characters: Lakshmi, Radha, Malik, Kanta and Manu, Parvati and Samir, Dr Jay Kumar, Maharani Latika

Setting: Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

The plot

Radha, or the Bad Luck Girl, is an orphan, now that her mother is also dead and fearing for her life she sets out to find her estranged sister Lakshmi with the help of Lakshmi’s abusive husband Hari.

Lakshmi is a henna artist in the post independence Jaipur, serving the upper class women by painting on their body. She has already had her share of knock downs in her life, having escaped an abusive husband a decade ago, leaving her parents to face the shame and started her life from nothing.

All she is working so hard is to build a house for her parents and seek forgiveness from them. But when her husband Hari and her newfound sister Radha walk into her life instead of them, her whole plan goes for a toss.

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Could there ever be a happy ending for the bad luck girl? Will the poor ones ever settle in happy life? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story in The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

My initial thoughts

The Henna Artist talks of the women of Jaipur, of different classes and their lifestyles. While the plot had much promise, it was quite predictable and very much like a fairytale.

The characters are pretty charming and interesting but were too superficial for me to have some emotional connection with them. Malik was adorable and a perfect sidekick, but Radha was too annoying.

What I would love to see was some character development for them, I didn’t understand how the naive, frightened Radha turned into a snobby, angry pest even if I count her “rebellious teenage” as a factor.

Ms Joshi’s writing style is engrossing and it almost took me to the 1950s Jaipur and its grandeur. It also gives a quick primer on the caste system and post colonial India, without talking about its ugliness.

Well, that was one of the main let downs for me. This book was entirely written for the white people who want to read about the “exotic India” and “spirituality”. I am astounded that someone could gloss over about a system that ostracizes someone for dyeing the hair of a person from the low caste, like it was nothing.

Moreover, the characters dotting over Jane Austen and Dickens sounded too unbelievable. My aunts who were young in 1950s and broadly educated but I am pretty sure they didn’t read English classics. Another attempt at appealing to the whites??

What worked for me

  • A strong female lead who is career focused and fights for her hard won independence and freedom. I liked other women characters like Kanta, Parvati and Lakshmi’s mother in law who had taught her about healing herbs who were also strong and distinct from the others.
  • The writing was engrossing and vivid, especially in the first part, with the colorful description of the city and their lifestyles.
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What may have been better

  • The book seemed it was directed at people who are new to India and its culture, rather than Indians. I totally wish The Henna Artist was written for Indians, rather than making it a propaganda.
  • The plot is predictable and too much of fairy-tale vibe, which didn’t work for me given the mature themes it covered.
  • I wish the characters had individual arcs and they had been fleshed out better.

Bottom line

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi can be a good start for people who do not know anything about the Indian history and heritage with a predictable, fairy tale like ending. For people who know better, there are much better choices.

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Let’s chat

Have you read The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi? What are your favorite choices when it comes to reading about India? Let us talk.

2 Comments

  1. MRIDULA GUPTA

    Fairy tale endings? A big No 😛

    Reply
    • Gayathri

      Ha ha! Let me know if you ever read it.

      Reply

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Hello there!

Gayathri loves reading, recommending books and talking about bookish things in real life. Her blog is just an extension of that habit. When she is not reading books or creating online content, she freelances as a beta reader. She lives currently in Dubai.Head over to meet me

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