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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times best seller

A Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick

"Eloquent and moving...Joshi masterfully balances a yearning for self-discovery with the need for familial love." (Publishers Weekly)

Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel.

Escaping from an abusive marriage, 17-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There, she becomes the most highly requested henna artist - and confidante - to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own....

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow - a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2020 Alka Joshi (P)2020 HarperAudio

What listeners say about The Henna Artist

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Lyrical and inspiring

This debut novel is impossible to put down and swept me away on a tantalizing journey through 1950s Jaipur. I found the entire cast of characters fully realized in the author's lyrical words, and the story replete with color and culture. I especially enjoyed the clever interplay of the audience's realizations with the protagonist's, along with her internal discourse as she is faced with the hefty weight of fate and external machinations balancing on a knife's edge. Phenomenal book!

83 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Heartwarming story about sisters and finding one’s calling

Excellent story and narration! The story takes place in India during the late 1940’s and highlights the challenges Indian women (especially working class) faced. I enjoyed the personal journey each of the main characters underwent while having to choose between personal desires and family needs. I definitely recommend this book to others who enjoy historical fiction and stories about overcoming the odds.

50 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

A beautiful and unique story!

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi is a beautiful and vividly drawn story of perseverance, inner strength, love, sisterhood, and the oppressions and disadvantages faced by women.

The book follows a henna artist named Lakshmi who ran away from an abusive marriage to make a life for herself as an independent woman in 1950s' India. As Lakshmi works to achieve her goal of owning her own home she is surprised by the appearance of a younger sister she knew nothing about. Radha is just 13 years old and has just lost her mother, having lost her father not too long ago. Orphaned she goes in search of her only living relative. Lakshmi abandonment of her husband had estranged her from her family but she had hoped that her parents would eventually forgive her and come and live with her once she had her own home. Her parents, however, never did forgive her and died never having spoken to their youngest daughter about her older sister. At least when they meet Radha has already learned about Lakshmi, but Lakshmi is completely surprised by her meeting Radha.

Now, with this unexpected appearance Lakshmi has to learn to take care of this 13 year old girl, while still trying to work towards her goals. Unfortunately, Radha, who's had to fend for herself for a long time is wile and turns out to be rebellious and her actions have a disastrous effect in Lakshmi life.

I loved the character of Lakshmi, I found her strength and determination admirable. Despite all the obstacles she faces she always manages to go forward and has the flexibility to adjust her life to circumstances even when they are not of her own making. She isn't perfect, at all, she makes many mistakes but isn't afraid to acknowledge them even if she's slow to accept them at times. Even as she is the heroine of the story, we see her trip numerous times and have to reckon with the consequences of her actions throughout.

I had a much harder time with the character of Radha. She reminded me too much of the character of Briony from Atonement, who is probably one of my least favorite character in literature. For me, what bothers me about these characters is how selfish and careless they are and how, at least in Briony case she never truly atones for her actions. They are destructive people but at least in Radha's case in the end, unlike Briony, she does learn and does the right thing. Some of you might think I'm being harsh but I do in fact know what is like to be a hormonal 13 year old girl, and well, Radha was pretty shitty towards her Lakshmi. Sure, Lakshmi wasn't perfect, she made mistakes but Radha's actions went too far. Anyway, this was the only gripe I had with the story, everything else I loved. I will say that when we first meet Radha I did sympathize with her and I genuinely wanted to like her but I couldn't.

I've never been to India and the way the author described the scenes, the people, the smells, the food, it make me feel like I was there. It was so vividly drawl that you could almost smell the food as it was being cooked.

The characters, primary, secondary, and tertiary where well rounded and fully drawn people. No one was a caricature or a "Mary Sue". They had complexity and nuance to their personalities — it was quite remarkable. You could sympathize even with those character who became antagonist. It was very believable and relatable.

The cherry on top of this was the AMAZING narrator, Sneha Mathan! This is the first audiobook I've listened to from Mathan and I was completely blown away. First, her voice is silky and melodious and second her acting was first rate. Incredible diversity of voices. I'd listen to her read the newspaper. Aces!

Overall, I was incredibly pleased by both the book and the narration and would read and listen to this author and narrator again.

43 people found this helpful

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Captivated from the start

If you are searching for your next listen/read, look no further. The author weaves a story rich in culture, diverse in topics, and with imagery so rich I could “see” the henna, the fabrics, the mandalas, etc. The story of trials and triumphs, perseverance, customs and traditions, new beginnings...this book has everything. This book makes me want to learn more about Indian culture while being relatable to any woman. The narrator has a tone and cadence that is beautiful and easy to follow. I couldn’t put this one down. I started yesterday and finished today. Easily the best book I’ve listed to in months!

37 people found this helpful

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Excellent!

The story is well narrated and keeps the listener engaged throughout. It was so interesting to learn about the mores of another culture. Recommend highly!

35 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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I tried very hard to love it

No question, it's a beautifully written and narrated book, but I wasn't able to stay involved and connected to the story or its characters. I feel that maybe this book is meant to be read conventionally, not via Audible format. I have finished it but while listening over several days, many times I caught myself missing large chunks of the novel and I didn't feel like going back to catch up. I might buy the paper book and read it eventually.

32 people found this helpful

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Not for me

If you enjoy reading about a female heroine who helps women have abortions and has an adulterous affair then this is the book for you. Will screen Reese’s recommendations better in the future.

31 people found this helpful

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Wonderful travel by book while sheltering in place !

I really enjoyed this debut novel. Joshi captures the small details very well, and makes the characters engaging. I particularly liked her descriptions of the colors and images - of the saris, the henna, the surroundings. The story played out well, the characters were well developed, their struggles were relatable and well written, the story had enough intrigue to keep me reading and a plot that made me want to know how it ended. Economic and social realities were not obliterated. But at the same time it was magical. It was a perfect read for "shelter-in-place," taking me somewhere else in my imagination, what struck me the most was the detailed description of everyday life, dress, ritual, homes, etc. on virtually every page. The intricacies of the details made me feel as if I were present: hearing, seeing, smelling and touching the heart of India. Great narration !

20 people found this helpful

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Empowering - Purchase now!

I was immediately transported to India. I loved the story so much, I didn't want it to end.

20 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Missed potential

Good story materials, but a shallow,
repetitive, mediocre writing job left them weak and disappointing.

18 people found this helpful

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  • M. King
  • 07-23-20

A nice, gentle read

I enjoyed this book. It was non-taxing and a little predictable in places but gently evocative of time and place, the characters sympathetic. I am not certain how plausable all the parts of the story are for the time in which it's set but I let it go.
My only real gripe is that it's written in American English and some of the words used and pronunciation really jars when you realise the English spoken in India during the 50's and 60's was almost certainly British, not American.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed it.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Suzi
  • 05-30-20

Evocative

Such a lovely story, written so well you can almost smell the Indian spices in the air and see the colours of the people. Characters you can enjoy their journeys with.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-19-20

Beautiful story

Not just a love story and not predictable at all. Beautiful love and sacrifice of family and dear friends. Loves every minute of it

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Helen
  • 05-23-20

Charming story, an easy listen.

After a slightly dull start this story blossomed into one full of charm and elegance, history and culture. The author created the scenes in my imagination with ease, using beautiful descriptions of places, people and colours. The characters were strong and I really didn't want it to end!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Judimaxx
  • 05-19-20

nostalgic of a time india

if you have ever been to india this book will revive all your memories again. a bit predictable but so beautifully written you will be happy to go along for the ride.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • kim fulton
  • 03-19-21

beautiful

loved this book from beginning to end. Every chapter just kept giving. just wonderful, and well read by the narrator

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Madasafish
  • 03-14-21

Great story

I loved the narrator and the story revealed great insight into life in India in the 1950s. Incredible world building.

What I couldn't follow was Lakshmi's sister's character development. She went from independent and streetwise to being very naive and never seemed to care about Lakshmi despite the clear impacts to her health.

Otherwise it was well paced with great characters and a nice ending even if the men are never penalised for their sins.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • DGS
  • 12-19-20

Irritatingly twee

Sweet but ever so predictable. All neatly and unrealistically tied up just like an American movie where everyone is happy and smiling at the end.


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  • Jen
  • 11-19-20

Enchanting, Colourful, Absorbing

A delightful book. Beautifully written, well considered & authentic. Superb narration.
If you enjoy fiction about India, I wholeheartedly recommend that you listen to this. It has a healthy balance of grit, hardship, softness & success.
Convincing characters & a creative storyline leaves you wanting more.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • FL
  • 11-09-20

Didn't want it to end

I really hope this is the first book in a series. I want to know how things continue. I want more. I didnt realise I was at the end of the book until the credits told me. I thought there was so much more to learn and know.
This book was brilliant, I will likely buy it on hardback too now just so I can reread the best parts.
If you enjoy cultural history, or stories based on real life, this book may be for you. I am glad I spent my money.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-02-20

I loved this beautiful book.

This was an amazing journey into the Indian Culture.
I couldn’t stop listening to this absorbing story.
The inclusion of the Indian traditions and cultures were extremely enlightening. The detailed descriptions of the surroundings and people made me feel like I was living in the story. The heartfelt story of these two sisters will remain with me for years to come. This reading was a lovely production.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Bree
  • 10-26-20

Wow

I started this book because of the reviews on Reece’s book club. Wow. What a fantastic story. I was transported to India in the 50s.
Colorful, hard working and full of gossip and saving face. I loved this book, would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to step into another life for a moment. Fantastic read

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • myra reynolds
  • 07-25-20

Great book and so beautifully written

Love this book, reminded me of my travels in India, so well written and also narrated.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Claire Bentley
  • 05-13-20

Entertaining listen

I enjoyed this book as what I would call an ‘easy read’. The story is simple, the cultural aspects interesting. I am not usually a fan of female narrators, however, Sneha was easy to listen to and added authenticity to the story.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-03-21

Simple story but vividly told

Very easy listening and is a well-told story, I enjoyed every moment. A good listen if you want to learn about an aspect of India and it’s culture, from a fictional perspective.

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  • Miss G M Wood
  • 02-15-21

Incredible

Loved this story so much. I adored the characters, descriptions and twists and turns. The narration was spot on.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-24-21

My first ever audio book, has me hooked.

As my first ever audio book & first ever book club book I was totally not expecting to be as engrossed as I was in a book I didn’t actually choose myself to read. Loved the main character & her strength to make it on her own.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Hanaa
  • 01-15-21

A must read!

Loved the story. Loved the narrator. A beautifully written book that is hard to put down (or in my case, stop listening to). The narrator's voice was so beautiful and well suited for a story like this. This book delves into the Indian culture in a way that so many outsiders are unaware of alongside other struggles that the wider community can relate to; love, deceit, family, broken relationships and the meaning of true friendship are all topics that are explored in this exceptional novel.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jo
  • 11-19-20

What a treasure. Loved it.

I loved this. I felt like I was there in India. A place I’ve travel to many times but now am held back by covid. I loved travelling there in my mind’s eye and being part of the characters’ lives there too. Brilliant.🌸

I negative is I couldn’t work out how to get the vocabulary list. I was looking forward to it too.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-10-20

Enjoyed this insight to life in India

great narration! interesting characters. I would listen to this again as there are layers to it