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The Henna Artist

By Alka Joshi – Moderator: Virginia López

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Jaipur, India, 1955. At just seventeen years old, Lakshmi escapes an abusive husband and heads to the vibrant city of Jaipur, where she becomes the most sought-after henna artist and confidante of upper caste women.

Clients believe that Lakshmi henna has the power to seduce their husbands and even conceive a child. Also known for her natural remedies and sage advice, you must tread carefully to avoid gossip that could ruin your reputation. When her husband discovers her whereabouts and shows up with a young woman, whom he introduces as Lakshmi’s little sister, the veil of discretion she has carefully woven is threatened.

About the author

In her first New York Times bestselling novel, Alka Joshi, reinvents her mother’s life through a strong character who, with deft resolve, defies the rigid social rules of mid-20th-century India.

As an adult and after several decades of living in the United States, Alka Joshi returned to her native India with her mother. Guided by her, Joshi immersed herself in the intoxicating atmosphere of colors, sounds, delicious foods, spices, long-standing traditions, and a cultural history that resonated deeply with her. It brought her the lost feeling of her childhood in Jaipur. The effect of going back there was crucial for the author. From those experiences was born Lakshmi, the main character of The Henna Artist. Joshi imagined the life his mother could have had in India if she had found the means while still a teenager. So Lakshmi would be that independent, albeit fictitious, woman that her mother could not be.

The book was a project that took ten years to complete, after careful research and several trips to India. In her own words, “My mother gave me the gift of options and freedoms that she didn’t have. This novel is my gift to her.”

Alka Joshi was born in India and raised in the United States from the age of nine. She has a B.A. (Business Administration) from Stanford University and worked three decades in advertising and marketing before earning his MFA (Master of Fine Arts) from the California College of the Arts. At age sixty-two, in 2020, Joshi published his first novel, The Henna Artist, which immediately became a New York Times bestseller. The book was also chosen by the Reese Witherspoon Bookclub and was shortlisted for the first Center for Fiction Novel Prize. Miramax T.V is currently developing an episodic series.

About India – Jaipur visited by the Author

“It was at the beginning of my master’s art program, when I started taking my mother back and forth to Jaipur. I spent a lot of time with her and learned about her past. I realized how extraordinary was that a woman raised in such a traditional way , who had an arranged marriage, immediately had children and was unable to make her own decisions, allowed me to have so many options. It was important to her too.

At that time, I thought about my mother and how her life would have been with all these opportunities that I have. And I thought, what if I make up a character like Lakshmi, and if that woman becomes independent?

While I was with my mother in Jaipur, we did all the things that she would have liked to do when she lived there. We went to the bazaar for saris, to the jewelry stores, and it was so much fun to see all these different products being sold there. In India, the bazaars are full of people all the time. We also visit the Jaipur Palace. My mother told me that before leaving for America, she had tea there with the Maharani, who invited all the wives of the families who were about to leave the country. From their descriptions I took the ideas for the images of the palace and of the Maharani for the book.

We traveled to Agra, where my mother spent most of her school years. We visited the classrooms of his old school and I had the opportunity to see how she would have been educated there. Meanwhile, I was trying to absorb all these experiences that were foreign to me.”

This is the first book of a trilogy.

Second book: released June 2021 Third book: 2023

The secrets of Jaipur

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Check out our reading guide for this book, with a lot of recipes, drinks, mood boards and more.

The Henna Artist Reading Guide

Get the book here: The Henna Artist

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