Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
By Balli Kaur Jaswal
Published: June 13, 2017

A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls.
Every woman has a secret life . . .
Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a "creative writing" course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.
Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.
As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s "moral police." But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

My review:

When Nikki's older and more traditional sister asks her to post her matrimonial ad at the Sikh temple, Nikki reluctantly agrees even if it isn't something she herself believes in. When she visits the temple, she sees an ad for an instructor to teach creative writing and she decides to give it a go. Unfortunately the ad is misleading--the Sikh community center is looking for someone to teach basic English not writing. Things become more complicated when one of her new "students" finds an erotic book in Nikki's bag (that she'd bought as a gag gift for her sister) and the class suddenly has a new purpose. The ladies want to share erotic stories and have Nikki transcribe them. Not at all what Nikki (or the rest of the community) would expect from traditional Sikh widows! Of course there are those in the community who would strongly object if word got out and some who would resort to violence to stop it.

Nikki is an interesting foil to the women in the class. Not all of the women are traditional. One younger widow, Sheena, is more similar to Nikki in her views and behavior but most of the women are very different from Nikki. They see her as an outsider at first because she doesn't embrace traditional roles in her community. She is modern-working at a bar, wearing Western clothing instead of Indian garb, etc. Gradually as they get to know each other I think that Nikki's views of the women changes and they see her differently too. They become a support group and family to each other which is nice to see.

At the beginning of the book, Nikki is sort of aimless. She has been drifting through life since her dad died. Before his sudden death, Nikki and her father had gotten into a big fight over her career plans and it hadn't been mended so that is a pretty heavy thing to bear. She believes he died disappointed in her. Her relationship with her mom and sister is also strained but it is great to see how that changes by the end of the book as Nikki embraces more of her culture while still being true to herself. 

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is an interesting blend of comedy, romance and more serious topics like abuse and women's rights. As the title implies there are some brief erotic stories told by the women in the class and interspersed through the book (but for those who don't want to read that, you can skip those parts and still enjoy the story).  The stories do illustrate a little about the characters who share them. In a way I was reminded of the tales shared by the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales but these stories all have to do with desire.  There is also some suspense involving what happened to a young woman who is connected to the class. Everything ties together well in the end. This is a different kind of book--what we in the library field might call a "genre-blending" novel and I think it would appeal to a variety of readers. I wanted to read this book because it is Indian fiction and the hilarious title as well as the book description appealed to me. I'm glad I gave it a try.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss


  1. The title is sure eyebrow raising and catches your attention right away. In a way it reminds me of "The Help." I was a bit wary of this book and thought it didn't have much of a point besides being scandalous.

  2. I'd like it too! Drawn by the title stayed on for the review. Thanks.


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