Book club questions for The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi covers all the key themes and events in this moving novel. There will be spoilers so for more context about the story, check out my spoiler-free review first.
Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks so many amazing books! I had heard about The Henna Artist prior to her selecting it but I didn’t know much about it. I love that Reese highlights authors from all kinds of backgrounds and really helps to expand people’s reading life.
The Henna Artist is such an impactful and vivid story—I so enjoyed it!
Here’s the synopsis:
Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-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.
Book club questions for The Henna Artist
- Did you know about this book prior to Reese selecting it for her book club? What are your initial thoughts about the story?
- In her author’s note, Alka said that she wrote this novel for her mother and reimagined her existence as Lakshmi who creates a life for her own. Let’s talk about the author’s choice to turn a personal story into a reimagined fictional one.
- What are some of the key areas that you learned regarding about Indian culture in the 1950s?
- There’s a lot that is discussed about life after India gained independence from Britain. The beginning of the novel Lakshmi says, “Independence changed everything. Independence changed nothing.” Let’s talk about what we think she meant by that.
- A big theme of the novel is having the freedom of choice. Initially Lakshmi is denied this when she’s forced to marry the abusive Hari. Once she escapes this marriage, she’s able to make a living working as an henna artist for wealth women while also providing tea sachets to women for a host of reasons including for fertility as well as abortion. Let’s talk about the theme of freedom as it relates to Lakshmi’s story.
- Lakshmi’s sister Radha has a very hard upbringing as her family was shamed when Lakshmi fled her marriage and the village. Women in the village gave Radha the cruel nickname of the “bad luck girl.” Let’s talk about how Radha eventually overcame that negative image that others created for her.
- There seems to be a struggle to find a balance between tradition and modern during this era in India. Let’s talk about this.
- Why do you think Lakshmi and Radha had such a volatile relationship for most of the story? What was the driving force for their relationship to improve?
- What are you thoughts about Samir and Lakshmi? Do you think he cared about her or was she just another woman to him? What did you think about the fact they eventually did sleep together?
- Lakshmi’s dreams all lie into her a house that she is trying to pay for herself. She believes that this is a symbol of her independence. But yet, there’s one wrong thing after another. Why do you think this house became such a burden for her? What did she learn by letting go of this house?
- Radha, at age 13, gets pregnant by Ravi who is Samir and Parvati’s son. Lakshmi is horrified and Kanta believes that introducing Radha to American film and different kinds of romance literature proved to be a bad influence to Radha. Let’s discuss this storyline.
- If there’s an antagonist in the novel, Parvati seems to be it. But she ends up helping Lakshmi with taking the house out of her hands, despite knowing that Lakshmi was intimate with Samir. Let’s talk about this decision by Parvati.
- What did you think about the ending and how Lakshmi, Radha and Malik move together to the Himalayan foothills? Do you think her and Dr. Kumar will get together?
Fun video from the author
I always look for videos of the authors talking about books. I have to share this really fun video of Alka and sister-chefs Sandy & Nicky Virk of Jivana Café in Los Angeles making some vegan Indian food.
More book club recommendations
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for The Henna Artist! Here are some more recommendations on what to read and links to book club questions.
Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba’s high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country’s growing political unrest—until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary…
Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.
Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children—four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear.
Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda’s insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. Deya can’t help but wonder if her options would have been different had her parents survived the car crash that killed them when Deya was only eight. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man.
But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family—knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future.