Monday, July 17, 2017

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

I was of course drawn to this book by the title - if I ever write another book I hope to think of something that catches the eye so effectively.  However, the title does not oversell - as soon as I started the book I was captivated by the characters and had trouble putting it down.

Nikki is a modern daughter of Sikh immigrants to London from the Punjab.  She has disappointed her deceased father by dropping out of law school and horrified her widowed mother by moving from home to live over and work in a pub in central London.  When Nikki's older sister sends her to Southall, a suburban Sikh enclave, to post an ad for a husband on the temple bulletin board an advertisement for a creative writing teacher catches her eye.

Kulwinder Kaur is in charge of women's programming at the Sikh temple.  She has managed to negotiate funding for a writing class for women which has led to the posting Nikki finds.  With no other applicants she takes a chance on Nikki as she doesn't want to lose the funding.  What she doesn't tell Nikki is who she has rounded up to take the class - Punjabi widows who do not know how to read and write and do not speak English.  However, they have lots of time on their hands and thus are happy to try out the class.

Despite her initial frustrations (and because she doesn't want to admit to her mother she has quit something else) she sticks with the class.  But the women aren't really interested in literacy - they want to tell stories.  So they begin to tell stories which Nikki and one of the literate widows transcribe - and all of the stories are explicit erotica.  Much to her surprise, there is much more to these widows than their highly sheltered and regimented lives would suggest and she befriends and empowers them.

There are many side stories which keep the action interesting.  First, Nikki meets Jason who seems to be a perfect Punjabi match for her, but harbours secrets which she must work around.  Then, Kulwinder's daughter has died in mysterious circumstances which all the characters gossip about and eventually try to sort through.  Next is Nikki's sister's search for the perfect mate as well as the truth behind Nikki's father's final hours.

All in all this book was a great and different read.

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