Cannonball Read Bingo Square: Shadow
Y’all. I finished this book May 17th for my library book club, and I am just now (finally) reviewing it. What. A. Journey. Big props to CBR Bingo for being the catalyst for me getting me out of this backlog and writing slump…
The titular Henna Artist (Lakshmi) is a shadow in that she disappeared from her village and has been building a name for herself in the upper social circles of Jaipur as a henna artist. Her past catches up with her when the younger sister she doesn’t know exists shows up on her doorstep, guided by Lakshmi’s estranged husband (yet another shadowy figure). What’s his story? Why did she leave? How is she going to manage her newly discovered and naive sister? All this unfolds over the course of the book as Lakshmi struggles for her independence, bristling against the limited opportunities available in a world that boxes women in. She is doing what she has to do to save and plan for her future, but is she making the right choices? Will it ever be enough?
To take the shadow identification a step further, Lakshmi deftly moves among the upper class as a confidant of her patrons, while keeping her own background and motivations obscured. And if all that wasn’t enough, to add one final shadowy layer, the men in this book are often doing dark deeds, under the cover of either literal darkness, or protected by the long shadow of priviledge and finances. So what I’m saying is, shadows abound.
Overall, this was a good read, though a little predictable in a comfortable sort of way. Joshi didn’t create many twists, but I haven’t read a lot of novels set in India and she did a great job of making that world come alive in a way that I learned about the people and the culture in the 1950s, as well as familiarized myself with the Jaipur of that time period.
This is another Reese’s book club pick and while I generally have liked the selections that I’ve read, many of her selections are a bit safe; she has a nose for books that tell interesting stories but with a rose-tinted lens. They tiptoe toward cultural commentary, but never tip the scale toward claims or content that would alienate a reader. This novel is an example of that, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the kind of book that is going to challenge your assumptions. By reading it you will have enjoyed a good story with interesting characters. For me, it was a good opportunity to put my feet into the life of someone utterly different from myself.
Interestingly, the idea for the novel came from Joshi’s life; she wrote this book as a reimagining of her mother’s life story, answering the question, “how would her mother’s life be different if she hadn’t had an arranged marriage?” That adds a depth to the story and a real resonance to the themes of possibility, change, and growth that are woven throughout.
I was surprised to discover that a sequel to this book came out in 2021 (and she is writing another to round out a trilogy) but I’m not sure I’ll pick them up. The Henna Artist was a pretty contained story with a sprinkle of “happily ever after” at the end so I’m not very compelled to see what comes next.