Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal
This book was nominated to be our book club selection for this month; it didn’t win the vote, but I had read the book that was selected already, so I decided to read this one instead.
The story follows Nikki, a young Punjabi woman who lives in London. She is struggling to find her identity, after dropping out of law school and experiencing the death of her father. There is tension with her mother, as she works as a bartender and lives in the flat above the pub. Her mother fears she’s going down the wrong path; throwing her life away.
Nikki reluctantly agrees to post a profile for her sister on the “marriage board” at the largest Sikh temple in Southall. While there, she finds a posting for an English and creative writing teacher, facilitating a project for women to tell their stories. She has no experience teaching at all, much less English or creative writing, but she gets the job because no one else applies.
She is in for a wild ride. A half dozen widows sign up for the course, with varying degrees of interest in learning English, but almost all of them have stories that they want to tell… And their stories are erotic! These women are reliving their experiences with their husbands, or dreaming of the experiences that they would have liked to have had. What becomes apparent is that these women, who are not supposed to have these feelings or desires, have rich imaginations and stories that pour out of them onto the page. Nevermind that most of them don’t even know how to write… They will find a way.
Along the way, Nikki finds herself drawn into the culture of her birth, one she has long held at arm’s length. She learns that these women aren’t backwards or archaic; instead they honor their rich cultural heritage.
I think this novel could have stood on its own, but the author throws in the excitement of a murder mystery too. I think I would have enjoyed this book either way, but I’m still not sure whether the side story adds to or detracts from the main plot line.
I listened to the book on audio, and found the reader, Meera Syal, to be engaging from start to finish.