What a fantastic read - funny, cryptic, and oh so well... ummm. I loved reading this book. Held my interest and was finished before i knew it.
Nikki grew up in a traditional Indian home to immigrant parents in London. She's typecasted as a "modern" girl because she had dropped out of college, moved out of her family home to live in a flat alone (and unmarried *gasp*), smokes cigarettes and works in a pub. She stumbles upon a listing at the Southall temple, looking for someone to teach a creative writing class to Punjabi widows. She's hired by Kulwinder, a strict Indian woman, whose daughter Maya, also considered a modern girl, had recently died. To Nikki's surprise, the widows decide to compose and share erotic stories in secret. Nikki learns about these women's arranged marriages as they discuss taboo subjects and their Punjabi community secrets, like Maya's death, are slowly revealed.
I thought this was a delightful read! I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the Punjabi culture. The writing was witty, funny and surprisingly serious as topics like immigration and honour killings were integrated into the story. It was a little slow at the start, but once I was about halfway through, I couldn't put the book down; the ending even had me a little emotional. Would definetly recommend!
4 Stars - I recommend if you enjoy diverse contemporary fiction. Specifically books that delve into gender roles, religion, and immigrant families.
Nikki is a modern woman. Despite her family's Indian and Sikh heritage, she makes her own way in the world. She works in a pub, isn't interested in arranged marriage, and smokes cigarettes. When her sister asks her to take a marriage ad to the local temple for her, she sees that they are hiring a creative writing teacher for women. Nikki jumps at the chance to empower these women, and takes the job. She doesn't realize that many of them cannot yet read or write, she's even more surprised when she finds out that they really just want to share their deepest fantasies in story form. Kulwinder's daughter disregarded their rules and culture, and now she is dead. Kulwinder spends her days afraid of stepping out of line. When Nikki is hired to teach the women, Kulwinder finds that she is more like her daughter than she is comfortable with. This story blends two cultures, multiple generations, and brings women together.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. I loved that it blended "modern women" with traditional Punjabi women. I liked that it included different generations and circumstances, and allowed all of the women to learn from one another. Particularly I enjoyed the focus on the widows, in American culture we don't treat widows in quite the same way, but I thought that this book was important in showing that widows still need social activities, company, and still have an interest in romance and sex. There are bits and pieces of their erotic stories written in to the chapters, and I thought that they helped illustrate the culture and how people can surprise you. I really enjoyed how things wound up in the end. I loved seeing how far the characters came in their own lives and relationships. I thought that this book was really satisfying.
Funny, sometimes serious, this story entertains. It's not just about the sharing of intimate stories from an ageing group of Indian widows. We are taken lightly into the world of modern meets tradition as women either live into a strict culture of patriarchy or live in freedom of choice despite harsh criticism and ostracism. Clever and fun.
If you like Harlequins, go for it. It has all the ingredients. Boy and girl meet, have a falling out, boy explains himself and all live happily ever after. Gag. So many flaws. The posting for the class doesn't even have a teacher and is for a writing class. Nothing is mentioned about widows yet all students are. One student can't even read and registers - and she is not liked by others in the community. It's her "son" who registers her. Why would he do that? Page 196 Gulsham couldn't take the diary out without being noticed. Huh? They'll notice her coming out of the room anyway - with or without the diary. Hide it under her clothes!!! The end gets wrapped up with the murderer being caught, Nikki getting the book she's always wanted, back with the boyfriends, going to school, teaching the class, blah, blah blah. GAG. I was generous with my rating because it did give a bit of info on the Punjabi community.
There was much more to this story than I anticipated when I picked it up. The spicy stories were there but also a strong picture of immigrant life was painted. To touch on honour killings and foul play was brave for a seemingly lighthearted tale. Being raised conservative Christian, I resonated with the taboos and outright suppression female of longing. So to hear these women find themselves in that respect was refreshing and overdue. Unique read. I really enjoyed it.
March 7 2018: Reese Witherspoon has a new book club pick, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal.
What a fun and funny book. Jaswal highlights the cultural divide between east and west in Southall London. The exploration of intolerance, honour crimes, and women's rights bring a seriousness to this story that also explores feminine sexuality at any age.
Nikki is a 22 year old drifter. She hasn't figured out what to do with herself and finds herself taking on what she believes to be a writing class at a community centre in the heart of London's Punjabi community. That is not what the widows who have signed up thought they were learning and it transitions into something else. Something you'd never imagine the female elders of any community discussing. There is the threat of a morality police, the class being shut down, Nikki's love life and family, and despite the less than savory bits it was great fun to read with a whole lot to chat about.
This book was a great idea, but it needed a more skilled writer. I feel like it couldn't decide between being domestic or contemporary fiction, chick lit, romance, or mystery. Not that you have to stick to one genre, but this didn't mesh properly. It isn't a terrible book: it's a compulsive read, in part because the protagonist is sympathetic, and for the cast of characters that revolves around her. One might say there are too many characters to truly care about :) and this is true, but that also helps it be a quick read. If you want a light chick-lit-romantic-mystery with a hint of identity crisis and self-actualization of the adrift college drop-out, this book's your guy.
I'd check out Jaswal's next book, so...meh. I like South Asian fiction and novels about culture clash.
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