I’ve started reading the next book on my Historical Fiction Around the World tour of books written by non-American authors entitled The Henna Artist by Akla Joshi. It’s important to note that this is the first book in The Jaipur Trilogy. This first story is set in Jaipur, State of Rajasthan, India in the 1950s. The paperback is 400 pages, but I’m reading it on my iPad via a library borrow through Hoopla. I mentioned this only to add that while it’s nice to be able to read it on my iPad, Hoopla won’t let me resize the text easily like I can in other reading apps. Perhaps I need to poke around more and see if there is a way to change that, but for now I’ve been turning the device to landscape mode to make the text large enough to read.
The author has provided some collateral materials to help readers understand the context of the story. These include a glossary, the Story of Henna, information on the Caste System, as well as several recipes for items/foods mentioned in the story. She also includes a list of the characters who appear in the story to introduce them before you begin reading, a fact I’ll circle back around to in a minute.
The story is divided into four parts and I have finished reading through Part One. The main character, Lakshmi, is very likeable and despite the different culture and society she lives in, I feel like I understand her situation and her choices. The author has deftly written about the nuances of life in India, the protocols and expectations, as well as the subtle politics of the society. It’s really a fascinating introduction to India for me.
The Prologue helps to set the stage for what comes later, but I must admit to being confused as to whose story I was reading since the author begins with a character who is not Lakshmi, but her sister, Rhada. So when chapter one begins, I thought we were still in Rhada’s POV, not Lakshmi. After a few paragraphs, I caught on but there was a bit of confusion for me. I suppose if I’d read the list of characters more closely, I might have followed it better. So consider that my advice to any who wants to read this interesting and compelling story: read through the Characters Who Appear section carefully.
Akla Joshi has a beautiful writing style that readily depicts the life and times of the characters in this delightful story. Let me share the opening paragraph of Chapter One, which does a fine job of setting the stage of Jaipur:
Independence changed everything. Independence changed nothing. Eight years after the British left, we now had free government schools, running water and paved roads. But Jaipur still felt the same to me as it had ten years ago, the first time I stepped foot on its dusty soil. On the way to our first appointment of the morning, Malik and I nearly collided with a man carrying cement bags on his head when a bicycle cut between us. The cyclist, hugging a six-foot ladder under his arm, caused a horse carriage to sideswipe a pig, who ran squealing into a narrow alley. At one point, we stepped aside and waited for a raucous band of hijras to pass. The sari-clad, lipstick-wearing men were singing and dancing in front of a house to bless the birth of a baby boy. So accustomed were we to the odors of the city—cow dung, cooking fires, coconut hair oil, sandalwood incense and urine—that we barely noticed them.
I’m looking forward to finding out what will happen next in this story. I’ll try to finish it before next week’s blog.
Now that Thanksgiving in America is close to hand, I’d thought I’d share my Thanksgiving romance with you all. See below for more on Tara and Grant’s unique trek into an enchanted valley…
Until next time, happy reading!
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