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There are one million new books published each year. With so many books and so little time, where do you begin to find your next must-read? There’s the New York Times Bestseller list, the Goodreads app, the Cape Library’s Staff picks shelf and now Martin’s Must-Reads.Every Wednesday at 6:42 and 8:42 a.m., and Sunday at 8:18 a.m., Betty Martin recommends a must read based on her own personal biases for historical fiction, quirky characters and overall well-turned phrases. Her list includes WWII novels, biographies of trailblazers, novels with truly unique individuals and lots more. Reading close to 100 titles a year, Betty has plenty of titles to share.Local support for "Martin's Must Reads" comes from the Cape Girardeau Public Library and the Poplar Bluff Municipal Library.

Martin's Must Reads: 'The Henna Artist'

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“Jaipur, India
November 15, 1955

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.”

I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and those are the opening lines to the first chapter of Alka Joshi’s novel The Henna Artist. Lakshmi is a thirty year old henna artist and Malik is a young boy who runs errands for her and helps with her appointments.

Lakshmi has managed to connect with a distant relative of the Jaipur royal family which means her henna skills are sought after by wealthy and connected women. She’s also known for her knowledge of herbs and how to use them to heal. Lakshmi has been saving her money in the hopes of owning her own home. She ran away from an arranged, abusive marriage thirteen years before.

One day Lakshmi’s husband and a young girl, Radha, appear at her door. The young girl is Lakshmi’s sister, born after Lakshmi left and now, with the death of both parents, an orphan. Lakshmi takes her in and attempts to teach her proper manners.

This is a fascinating window into life in India in the 1950’s when the caste system still affected Indian’s lives. As the book jacket says the Henna Artist is “Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern.”

If you’re looking for a window into a woman’s life in India in the1950’s then you must read The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

Betty Martin was born in Boston, Massachusetts to a Lutheran pastor and his organist wife. Betty’s love of books was inspired by her father who read to all four children each night.