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Sharell Cook’s Henna For The Broken – Hearted, is an interesting personal account of an expat woman’s life in India; an alternate perspective could have lent better balance.
Review by Rakhee Ghelani
Sharell Cook is the woman behind the popular blog, Diary Of A White Indian Housewife. Her debut novel, Henna For The Broken – Hearted is about her move from a comfortable middle class life in Australia to India following the dissolution of her first marriage. The book starts by outlining the events that led to the break-down of her marriage and the effect of it on her personally.
To recuperate she goes to India to volunteer and falls into the arms of a man who would later become her husband, Aryan. The course of true love never runs smoothly, and her relationship with Aryan takes a few more turns before it brings her to India permanently.
The book has many similarities to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; the journey of self-discovery through travel, culture and of course love. For those that enjoyed Gilbert’s tale, Henna for the Broken-Hearted hits the same chords. It is easy to read and a very honest account of the writer’s experience. However, the similarities between the stories end there.
Henna for the Broken-Hearted describes India through the annoyances the author experienced and the frustrations she encountered trying to live her life in a different culture. Her accounts of some of the challenges she faces are insightful and incredibly honest. From the neighbours who constantly visit to navigating the Indian bathroom, she describes how she is affected by these experiences and the impact it has on her. For those who have had little exposure to Indian culture these insights will no doubt be eye-opening and very different from the romanticised view of India. However others may see this as another example that contributes to the growing wave of discontent in Indian literary circles of expats writing about India.
The challenges of adjustment faced by Cook are painfully real. However I longed to read more of what she enjoyed about living in India, outside of her relationship, such as the spectacular backdrops of Varkala and Manali that are such revered travel locations. Similarly I was left wanting to understand more about the lives of the people she encountered; like the women in the shelter she volunteered at – so that it could then be contrasted with the high society of Kolkata that was described in depth. One wonders how different this account could have been if viewed through an alternate lens.
The personal journey that the author experiences as she accepts her fate to live in India is accounted for in a very raw and honest manner. She is not afraid to talk about her short-comings and how she would embrace change to improve herself. Over the course of the novel the reader is allowed into her personal journey and given the opportunity to watch as her self-awareness grows and new learnings are applied.
Henna for the Broken-Hearted leaves the reader without an ending. The author is newly married and there is a strong sense that a new life is around the corner for her but where it will lead to next is up to the reader’s imagination.
Publishers: Pan Macmillan
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