The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
By: Liberty Lomonaco ~
We are so excited by this novel by Alka Joshi, to see a fictional representation of our career path is heartwarming and encouraging to us at Mehndi Madness and rarely seen.
Alka Joshi was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India, and has lived in the U.S. since the age of nine. She has a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from California College of the Arts. The Henna Artist follows seventeen-year-old protagonist Lakshmi, a woman that ran away from her home, family, and abusive husband to find herself in the city of Jaipur as a henna artist to the posh high society of women. After becoming a henna artist to the wealthy, the protagonist is enveloped with their secrets becoming a confidant and has to tread the line between 1950s high society secrets while trying to keep her own from coming to light. In the end secrets can never stay hidden, and in this case that stays true when her husband finds her and brings a surprise that will have her and you on the edge of your seat.
Alka Joshi’s book has been met with great reviews and selected for Resse Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club picked for May 2020 even though the book was just recently published in March 2020. A reason that this book has cultivated such reviews and excitement may be due to the author’s note within the book, that Lakshmi’s character was cultivated by Joshi with her mother in mind. Alka Joshi has mentioned in this note and in interviews that the protagonist is based on her mother and how she thinks her life could have been if she didn’t go ahead with her arranged marriage to a man she met once, which is a common custom in India. Her parents' marriage was arranged by their families in 1955 and her mother was eighteen years old at the time. Alka’s mother was creative and hard working and instilled those qualities in her as well as the belief she could do and be anything. This led Alka to wonder about her mother and what kind of woman she would be if she had grown up with these same ideals. It was with these thoughts that she invented the character Lakshmi, a character “determined to live life on her own terms.” In an interview done by YSWeekender they asked Alka Joshi, “What did you enjoy the most while writing this book?” She responded with, “I enjoyed using my imagination to invent Lakshmi’s world — an alternative life for my mother in which she is in charge of her own beautiful, ambitious destiny and it was such a pleasure. I loved living in Lakshmi’s world with the characters that inhabit it. I was tasting the food she hand-fed to her clients, the elite of Jaipur, and I experienced the cooling effect of her henna designs on my hands.”
Mehndi Madness believes in the freedom to determine one’s life for themselves and to live a happy existence. To see that same message in a context where the protagonist is a henna artist is important to us since the choice to be a henna artist isn’t always understood. We hope this book opens the doors to others not involved with Indian culture and allows for a dialogue to develop on what it means to be an artist, and a woman.
Mehndi Madness is so excited for this peak into being a henna artist in high class 1950s India, and that the adventure doesn’t stop here. The Henna Artist, is one of what will be a trilogy, the second book The Secret Keeper of Jaipur is out for pre-order now and of course the author is currently writing the third unnamed book. There is also talk that Netflix has picked up the right to turn the book into a TV series that will star Freida Pinto as Lakshmi. Freida Pinto is known for her roles in Slumdog Millionaire and the new Netflix psycho-thriller Intrusion. We hope you will follow Lakshmi’s journey with us at Mehndi Madness!
The rest of the Alka Joshi interview is linked here: https://yourstory.com/weekender/author-alka-joshi-debut-novel-reese-witherspoon/amp