Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal, was an ARC from Net-galley. I was hoping it wasn’t too rude, since this is an MG blog. This is a funny, warm, compassionate mystery and suspense story, but it is also explicit. It was hugely enjoyable!
Nikki is a modern young Punjabi woman, who has spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from her community and living an independent (read: western) life. But after the death of her father leaves her family in financial straits, she takes a job as a creative writing teacher for a group of aging widows at her temple and discovers that the white dupatta of the widow hides more than just a few greying hairs.
These are women who have lived in the shadows of fathers, brothers and husbands their whole lives, being dutiful, raising children and going to temple. They may not have a great grasp of English but what they do have is a wealth of stories and fantasies that they are no longer afraid to share with the other women in the group.
As Nikki realises that she must keep the illicit nature of the class secret from the Brothers—a group of highly conservative young men who have started policing the morals of the temple and the wider community—she starts to help these women voice their desires, and also begins to uncover the truth about the sudden recent death of a young Sikh woman.
I requested a copy of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows from Net-Galley. The blurb fascinated me, although I did wonder about the erotic bit. What I found was a wonderful piece of suspense writing from inside the London Punjabi community–a community I knew hardly anything about.
The story mixes modern womanhood and the conflicts experienced by British-born Indians. I ached when one woman experienced the dilemma of which passport control channel to go through at the airport. The simple story of how one person’s creative writing class is another’s adult literacy class turns into something that mixes crime, murder, tradition, sexism, love, hate and betrayal, with erotic stories. What makes it so funny (apart from the beautiful drawn characters) is the use of vegetables to describe body parts; half the widows at the evening class don’t know the English words for them, and the other half don’t know the Punjabi words. I shall never look at an aubergine again without at least a smirk!
This is a wonderful book, especially for people wishing to understand the Sikh community better–at least the female side. I’m sure the Sikh (male) elders will disapprove of it, so get it while you can. Do you need some tips to spice up your thirty year marriage–well, that’s an added bonus.
I’ve decided that the book cover is primarily purple (purple prose? aubergine?) and I’m adding it to my Colour-coded Reading Challenge.