The Henna Artist is the story of Lakshmi, a 30ish-year-old woman who fled an abusive marriage in hopes of the freedom that comes with being self-reliant and independent. For ten years, Lakshmi creates beautiful henna designs on the wealthy women of Jaipur and uses herbal medicine to help them with their fertility, arthritis, and other health ails. The interesting thing about Lakshmi is that the things that she’s worked so hard for, the beautiful house where her family can come live with her, create a prison more restrictive than her gender or abusive marriage.
One of the first themes that presents itself in this book is that starting over is not a sign of weakness but a sign of hard work. In some ways, it would have been easier for Lakshmi to stay with her husband than to leave and try to make her way in the world. But she allowed herself to dream and then gave herself the space to make that dream come true. When that dream fell apart, Lakshmi tried to pick up the pieces only to discover that it was no longer her dream. This lead to moving on to work with doctors to create a complementary medicine program, work that she could be truly proud of. Radha (Lakshmi’s sister) throws herself into starting over when she moves to Jaipur, but then struggles to leave behind the idea that her baby wasn’t born of love. Then she struggles to leave her baby behind so that she has the opportunity of a better life. Lakshmi’s struggles to start over after she leaves him, but learns how to support women instead of abusing them.
Freedom is another interesting theme throughout the book. Freedom of choice. Freedom to make money. Freedom to move throughout the world. Yet, everytime Lakshmi turns around she’s faced with something that directly challenges her freedom. First, her husband and Radha come to find her, effectively turning her life upside-down. Then, Lakshmi must balance proving herself to the palace with keeping her benefactor’s wife happy. On the one hand, the opportunity provides Radha the freedom to attend a nice school, on the other hand, it traps Lakshmi into long work hours and leads to her sister getting pregnant. Then the lies start and Lakshmi’s world starts to fall apart around her, which is semi-ironic as the world she created was in itself created by a lie. Perhaps the message is that honesty can set you free as much as true freedom is found when you allow yourself to change your mind.
Another interesting theme throughout the book is the idea of being cursed and having that curse follow you no matter where you go. The curse began when Lakshmi fled her marriage and left her family behind for a new life. By creating a new name for herself, Lakshmi was able to live her day-to-day life with minimal reminders of what she left behind. Lakshmi’s curse was a deep fear of her past catching up with her and a desire for her parents’ forgiveness and approval. Radha’s curse was more out in the open, constantly being called the “bad-luck-girl” and a constant struggle to find self-worth. Both sisters had to let go and take a hard look at their choices/impulses in order to move forward in their lives. I appreciated the hope that this theme brought to the book, as both Lakshmi and Radha were able to take charge of their own destinies and move forward.
Though the story gave us a surface-level understanding of Jaipur and the lives of our characters, the Henna Artist was an enjoyable read. Though I haven’t settled on when, I do think I’ll pick up the second book, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, to find out what happens next. Something that is unusual for me when an initial narrative wraps up nicely while giving me space to dream about what happens next.
It’s been a little while since I’ve picked up a non-fiction book, let’s give Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price a try for next month. Price came onto my radar after they were featured on the NPR podcast Life Kit: You aren’t lazy. You just need to slow down. It’s a quick 17 minute listen that I highly recommend.
Extra-curricular activities. Honors classes. 60-hour work weeks. Side hustles.
Like many Americans, Dr. Devon Price believed that productivity was the best way to measure self-worth. Price was an overachiever from the start, graduating from both college and graduate school early, but that success came at a cost. After Price was diagnosed with a severe case of anemia and heart complications from overexertion, they were forced to examine the darker side of all this productivity.
Laziness Does Not Exist explores the psychological underpinnings of the “laziness lie,” including its origins from the Puritans and how it has continued to proliferate as digital work tools have blurred the boundaries between work and life. Using in-depth research, Price explains that people today do far more work than nearly any other humans in history yet most of us often still feel we are not doing enough.
Filled with practical and accessible advice for overcoming society’s pressure to do more, and featuring interviews with researchers, consultants, and experiences from real people drowning in too much work, Laziness Does Not Exist “is the book we all need right now” (Caroline Dooner, author of The F*ck It Diet).