An elegantly written storyline, sophisticatedly developed characters, and of course the rich culture from the India of 1950s. Doesn’t it sound like a perfect mood?
Well, I am talking about Alka Joshi’s novel, The Henna Artist which recently bagged its position under the top ten in Goodreads choice awards under the categories, best debut novel, and best historical fiction. Needless to say, this novel deserves every bit of it and I can positively say that this was one of my ultimate pleasurable reads of 2020.
This is the story of Lakshmi, the henna artist. She was forced to get married at the age of fifteen. There she learned about natural medications and herbs for treating people from her mother-in-law. Although, at the age of seventeen, Lakshmi ran from her husband’s house and escaped from an abusive relationship. Gradually she settled in Jaipur city and started to work as a Henna artist. It took lots of sleepless nights and tons of hard work to build her reputation among all her royal clients and to save penny by penny for building her own house. Lakshmi was passionately dedicated to being independent and improving her future that is when she was introduced to Radha, a sister Lakshmi was never aware of. It took some time for Lakshmi to completely accept Radha and to break the ice with her sister, the only family she had. Days passed by and Lakshmi’s fight for independence, success, respect, and dignity continued.
Whatever I said above is like a drop in the Ocean. The Henna Artist is a book that can be really difficult to compile or cut short because of the finest precision by which Alka has crafted it. I have not read any book so far that is planned and presented with utmost perfection. The structure of the book is designed considering readers from all over the world in mind. The book starts with a list of all the characters that will appear in the story further so that if you lose track of it, you have your backup ready. After this, there is a crisp prologue that will build the required suspense and will grab all your attention. As soon as you finish reading the story there is a list of terms used in the local language with their meaning. This can be really helpful for people who are not aware of our Indian culture and looking forward to exploring it in its originality. The best thing here was that these terms were written in italics in the story so that the readers can immediately identify them from the story and look for them in the Glossary of Terms. The bonus point here is that the readers will get to know a little bit about the history of Henna and the recipe to prepare the henna paste along with other delicacies that were frequently talked about in the book.
I just loved every bit of this book and my reading experience was majestic. The character development of the main characters as well as the relevant secondary characters was done amazingly. No doubt there were a lot of characters but not for once did I lose track of them. I enjoyed knowing all the characters, some were delicate, some vulnerable, some mature, and some were just being stubborn teenagers. I always say that one can learn a lot from fictional stories and if one wants to explore India and its culture in the unaltered form this book is a must-read.
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