Book Review Of Sharell Cook’s Henna For The Broken-Hearted
I had wanted to read henna for the broken heart for quite some time and finally managed to get my hands on it. First of all, I really like the title of the book. I find it so poetic – and also that it captures the spirit of the story in just a few words.
Henna for the Broken Heart is told in the first person. It tells the story of how the author led a seemingly complete but seemingly empty life in Australia. Faced with some life changes, Cook decides to go to India as a volunteer, where she rediscovers life and love, and herself in the process.
When I started reading Cook’s self-description, I thought, “Oh, that sounds so much like me! For example, he says, “Despite what some would call an idyllic childhood “I grew up as a shy, withdrawn, introverted teenager… I was used to spending time alone in nature and in books: “When he explained his career options and other expectations of life, I was hooked.
But, of course, that’s where the similarity ends, because I’m not a white woman trying to find the true meaning of her life while struggling to accept the idiosyncrasies of India. And that’s where I have a problem with this book. While the premise of the story – the search for love and peace – is universal, the story itself is not. I suppose the target audience for this book is predominantly foreign. Many everyday and mundane things are described in detail that the average Indian does not need any introduction to. Even the prices of things are first given in rupees and then properly converted into dollars. So sometimes I just wanted to skim over the very familiar details of Ganesh Chathurthi and arranged marriages.
Although the book offers an insider’s perspective on life in India – how Cook finally settles in Mumbai – it is also peppered with typical Indian clichés; how we don’t queue up, how we push around in crowded places, how everything is plagued by bureaucracy, how we rush to big weddings, how we shake our heads and so on. Yes, yes (and I’m shaking my head here), we know all that. Can we get on with it now?
But apart from the details about India, where the question is whether it’s about death, Cook’s story is really remarkable. You definitely have to admire the fact that he was brave enough to venture into India at a time when he was in a bind in his personal life. After all, life in India is anything but easy and requires many “adjustments”, especially for those who come from countries where there is order and all the rules are followed. Even many Indians like me, who are used to a comfortable lifestyle, would find India quite demanding, whether we love the country and consider it our home or not.
I felt sorry for Cook when she found herself in an Indian-style squat bath, puzzled by what she was going to do next! At her initial accommodation, where she is kept awake by an army of mosquitoes, she reminded me of my recent trip to Chennai; I could not sleep because the mosquitoes were clapping non-stop, which could not scare off many Odomos or Good Nights, and in fact, I longed for the comfortable comfort of my bed in Dubai for a long, restful sleep!
Henna for the broken heart is similar in theme to Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love”. But I enjoyed reading Eat Pray Love more than this book. It could be because “Eat Pray Love” takes us to Italy and Indonesia, apart from India, and since I am fascinated by these two countries, I find them quite exotic.
Another reason why I think Eat Pray Love is better is that Eat Pray Love tells a personal story, but somehow it manages to see the whole picture in a larger context. But Henna for the Broken Heart is a very personal story that focuses almost exclusively on the author’s ups and downs. While the author’s courage to share her fears and innermost thoughts is admirable, why bother digging through almost 300 pages of a book that describes the complexities of any stranger – especially if you already know how it ends, because the author is very popular in the blogosphere as she runs the Diary of a White Indian Housewife website. With this in mind, I had the feeling that something was missing from Henna for the brokenhearted. A good read, but going beyond the person would have made it a great read.
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