The Henna Artist

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I was not initially excited about reading this novel, Indian culture is not something I seek out and it feels a little out of my comfort zone. However, upon concluding the novel, I was excited to learn that this is the first in a trilogy. I expect I will read book two at some point in the future and, depending how that goes, maybe even book three.

I listened to the audio book and read the hard back, depending whether I was in the car or the house. Especially with a book set in a foreign place, I find the audio almost essential to hear the correct pronunciations of names and other items. There is a helpful Glossary of Terms at the back of the book, along with other supplemental information. Foreign words are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, most are understandable with the context.

The story begins in India in 1955, eight years after they gained independence from Britain. They now have running water and free schools, which frames their independence in a positive light. However, by today's standards, they are still limited, particularly in the case of women and what they can and can't do. Another thing the characters contend with is the Caste system, which is referenced and explained throughout the novel as well as a special supplement at the end. We first meet 13 year old Radha in her small town, and soon she joins her much-older sister, Lakshmi, in the larger town of Jaipur. The story is a beautiful testament to sisterly-bonds and family honor and obligations. Lakshmi was married off at 15, is now 30, and hasn't been with a man in 13 years, even though she is still married. She didn't even know she had a sibling, or that her parents were deceased, because her mother stopped answering Lakshmi's letters after Lakshmi left her husband.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 1

Religion: 2

Gruesome: 0

Suspense: 1

Morality: 3

Traditional: 1

Sex - a bawdy joke (Pg. 154) Scene on page 235. Lewd act / indecent exposure. (Pg. 314)

Religion - Three types of Karma. After Malik touched the hearth, the home owner had to have a purification ceremony because Malik was Muslim. Lakshmi wondered whether Radha was her penance or salvation. "Like a priest's incantation or a temple-goer's prayer to Ganesh." (audio) "We might even have shared family in a previous life." (Pg. 290) "We are powerless against God's will" offered as solace after hard times. (Pg. 317)

Gruesome - no examples come to mind

Suspense - minor in regards to how things will turn out

Morality - Lakshmi makes teas to introduce abortions. (Ch. 3) Lakshmi takes in her unknown, orphaned sister and filters her own life story to be age appropriate for the young sibling. Lakshmi has second thoughts about all the abortions she's induced. (Pg. 241)

Traditional - a contract clause against an intersex child states "genital identity" (Pg. 248)

Discussion Questions

Did you think Radha would find romance in Jaipur? With whom? What about Lakshmi? Did you expect her to find love, and, if so, with whom?

Regarding Jane Eyre, Kanta said to Radha, "the orphan girl gets everything she wants at the end". (Pg. 99)
Was this prophetic? In what ways is Radha similar to Jane Eyre?

At what point did you recognize the surprise pregnancy? Who did you think the father was?
Kanta blamed herself. How much do you think she was to blame?

Lakshmi's encounter with Samir at Geeta's house was out of character for Lakshmi. What led her to such a departure from her ordered life?
How was this encounter similar to when she confronted Hari regarding her suspicions?

What did you think had happened to Lakshmi's pocket watch, the gift from Samir, when she couldn't find it? (Pg. 244)

At the end of Ch. 14, why did Lakshmi not claim Hari as a relative? Was she ashamed of the divorce or of him, even though he was doing good works?

What or who did you think was the source of the lies about Lakshmi stealing? When Mrs. Sharma revealed the source of the lies about Lakshmi, Lakshmi assumed it was because of Radha's actions. What about Lakshmi - she'd also done something that a woman might want revenge for.
What did you think was the act that motivated the lies? (end Ch. 16)

Parvati said, "People are more gullible, and less compassionate, than any of us want to believe don't you agree?" (Pg. 276) What are your thoughts?

Theme Ideas

Get hennaed, or print patterns and color them on paper. Or design your own mosaic like Lakshmi did for her floor. (Ch. 2) Get books for ideas.

Meet in a flower garden, especially one with orchids. (Pg. 154)
Decorate with pink roses, blue hibiscus, and orange bougainvillea, like in the hospital garden. (Pg. 286)

Food ideas:

Serve anything Indian. There is so much food mentioned in this story. Consult the glossary for lots of ideas. The most obvious things to serve would be Batti Balls and Rabri, which have recipes included in the last pages of the book.