Is your books club looking for a great historical novel that isn’t set during World War II? How about a book that shows readers a different culture than what they’re used to? The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi definitely fits the bill! It’s a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, and has become a bestseller much loved by book groups! If your book club has picked out this book for your next meeting, never fear–we have a summary and The Henna Artist book club questions to help ensure your meeting run smoothly!
The Henna Artist Book Summary
This novel follows a young woman named Lakshmi who flees an abusive arranged marriage in the 1950s and heads to Jaipur, a vibrant city full of opportunity and promise, but danger too. She makes her living as a henna artist, and it’s not long before her artistic talent makes her one of the most sought-after henna artists in the city. But even though the upper class woman all want to hire her, Lakshmi must be careful navigating their circles, and their gossip. Her carefully constructed independent life is thrown off course with the sudden appearance of Lakshmi’s husband, who brings with him someone who will change Lakshmi’s life forever.
Themes: Independence, freedom of choice, tradition vs. progress, consequences
The Henna Artist Book Club Questions
Did you know much about Indian culture in the 1950’s prior to reading this book? What did you learn? What surprised you?
Have you seen henna art before? Have you ever had henna painted before? Discuss your perceptions of this art form, and spend some time looking up designs to share with your group!
Do you think that you could be as brave as Lakshmi is in leaving, and finding a whole new life for herself? Where do you think her courage came from? Were there any other options before her, aside from leaving?
At the beginning of the novel, Lakshmi says, “Independence changed everything. Independence changed nothing.” What does she mean by this? She’s discussing independence from the British, but how do you think her statement applies to her own independence from her husband?
What are some recurring themes that you noticed throughout the book? Independence, and freedom to choose are certainly some of the bigger themes that the author returns to. How does Lakshmi both support and embody the idea of independence and freedom of choice in her life?
India in the 1950’s was going through major changes, not just due to their independence from the British, but culturally, too. In what ways do you see the struggle between tradition and new ideas play out in this novel? Which characters are more traditional, and which ones are more modern? How does the caste system affect these changes?
Discuss Lakshmi’s clients. How do they differ, and how are they similar? Are they more or less independent than Lakshmi?
Discuss Lakshmi’s relationship with her sister Radha. Why is it contentious? Who do you think is at fault for that contention? What allows them to finally start to heal?
Do you think that Lakshmi’s drive for freedom led her to making good choices throughout the book? Discuss her decisions and her goals, and what she might have done differently.
Joshi uses proverbs throughout the book to make various points–did any of them stand out to you? Which were your favorites?
Have you read any other books set in historical India? Are there any that you would recommend, to help understand historical context?
Would you read another book by Alka Joshi? Why or why not?
Book Club Bonus: If you are able to, hire a henna artist to come to your book club so you can see the art form up close! The book also includes Malik’s recipe for Batti Balls, which might be fun to make together or ahead of time and serve to the group! As a nod to the sachets that Lakshmi would peddle, we also recommend researching various teas and finding an Eastern healing blend to serve during your discussion.
Want more book club recommendations? Here are some of the best books from 2020 we recommend, and some great literary book club recommendations! And if you want even more great books, sign up for TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations! TBR is a personalized book recommendation service that sends you books you’ll love to read. Here’s how it works: Simply fill out the reader survey and let us know what you want more of–such as historical book club books–and what you’re not keen on. Then, an expert Biblioligist will read your responses and recommend three books just for you. Receive your recommendation letter via email in about two weeks, or opt to receive your recommendations as brand new hardcovers from our partner, Print: A Bookstore in Portland, ME in about three to four weeks. Learn more and sign up now!