In order to kick off Asian American & Pacific Islander month, I thought I’d spotlight The Henna Artist, written by Indian immigrant Alka Joshi. This story enraptured me completely, which is in no small part thanks to the incredible audiobook narrator, Sneha Mathan.
The Henna Artist, set in 1950’s Jaipur, India, is a story of run-away Lakshmi who fled her abusive marriage and is now a henna artist to the upper class. While she paints the ladies’ hands, she provides herbal remedies to both the men and women she services. Suddenly finding herself in charge of a 13-year-old sister she never knew she had, the life she worked so hard for comes to a crashing halt. Lakshmi’s story is fiction, but her perseverance, love for her family, and her culture’s art and medicine are far from the realm of fantasy. Here, Joshi presents a reimagining of what her mother’s life could have been if she had been given the opportunity to shape her own destiny.
No stranger to book clubs, this title was featured in Reese Witherspoon’s book club at its debut in 2020. Always an evergreen topic, body autonomy is at the heart of this novel, as well as a diverse and colorful portrait of Indian culture. This book is perfect for adults, and vivacious young adults who are ready to face these conversations head-on and talk about their own experiences and viewpoints.
If you’re worried about your knowledge of India going into this book, do not fret! Our copies at the commission all include a list of characters, a glossary of terms, information about the Caste System in India, the history of and recipe for Henna, and some food recipes! Or all of that information is available here.
If you’re interested in reading this book for your own book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here.
Joshi, Alka. The Henna Artist. Mira. 2020