Desert Isle Keeper
The Henna Artist
In The Henna Artist, author Alka Joshi introduces readers to a smart, independent-minded heroine, struggling to gain independence in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Lakshmi Shastri makes her living creating beautiful henna designs on the skin of some of the city’s wealthiest women. It’s a far cry from life in the rural Indian village where she grew up, and she’s determined to do everything she can to keep her star on the rise, as financial independence is, in Lakshmi’s opinion, the marker of true success.
Early life was not kind to Lakshmi. Married off at fifteen to a cruel man who blames her for her inability to bear children, Lakshmi feared for her life until she finally ran away, bringing disgrace upon her family. It’s been thirteen years since she’s seen or spoken to any of them, but she continues to worry her husband will somehow track her down. So she’s not terribly surprised when he approaches her one evening, asking for a large sum of money. What does surprise her is the presence of a teenaged girl at his side, a girl claiming to be Lakshmi’s much younger sister, born less than a year after she left home for good. Determined that her sister will not become her husband’s latest plaything, Lakshmi takes the girl in, but being responsible for the happiness and well-being of someone else turns out to be much more complicated than Lakshmi envisioned.
Lakshmi isn’t a heroine everyone will love. She doesn’t always make the right decisions, and I sometimes found the way she treated those around her to be pretty horrible. However, as I continued reading and getting to know her as a whole person, the reasons behind her actions began to make a bit more sense. At the core of everything she does is the fervent wish to be seen as a success, and this wish sometimes gets in the way of other, more important things. Fortunately, Lakshmi does grow over the course of the novel. She doesn’t continue making the same mistakes over and over again, something I definitely appreciated.
I know I haven’t given you a great deal of information about the plot, but I don’t want to spoil things for you. There’s a certain magic to be found in these pages – and I can say that once I started reading, I hated to put this book down. I was desperate to know how things would turn out for Lakshmi, and my daily chores and personal interactions were shrugged off as I read. My advice is to pick this book up as soon as you can, and don’t bother reading the synopsis. Instead, allow the author to sweep you away. I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.
I’ve read several novels set in India, but few have been as powerful as The Henna Artist. There’s something so special about the story’s heroine and the world in which she lives, and the author does a great job imbuing the story with a wonderful sense of time and place, allowing me to slip out of my own existence for a while. She paints complex pictures with her words, and I came away from the book feeling just a little richer in my knowledge of a world so very different from my own.