Erotic Tales for Punjabi Widows. By Bali Kaur Jaswal
Regular visitors to my blog will find that India and Pakistan are settings I gravitate towards when picking a new book to read. Here we are based in exotic Southall and sunny Enfield (The latter a mere stone’s throw from where I currently sit) yet we still are permitted to learn about the realities of life for Punjabi women in a modern London
Nikki is concerned that her sister is settling for less than she deserves by choosing an arranged marriage via the message board at the Temple. She feels deep guilt that her youthful rebellion of throwing away a promising degree in law and desertion of the family home in favour of more literary aspirations forced her traditional Father to an early grave.
This emotional baggage is all the experience that she takes into an evening class where she will be teaching creative writing to a group of traditional Sikh Widows. A more vocal and opinionated bunch you could not find! There initially for a myriad of reasons, a lack of literacy and fluency in English being the uppermost, Nikki discovers that they believe she will be teaching a English language course and begins the biggest and ultimately most dangerous writer's circle in London.
Nikki is at a loss, she wanted to curate an anthology of feminine Sikh voices. What she ultimately gets is a number of sweetly innocent tales of a mildly raunchy nature, the kind of fantasies and revelations no one expects from women of this community. Through sharing these stories the dynamics of the group and the people in their sphere shift and secrets long held begin to be excavated, examined and exorcised
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, the lighter parts punctuated by the stories, are balanced rather brilliantly with a much darker and very topical undertone of misogyny and extreme traditionalism, where the need to protect respect and honour veers off into a need to blindly control and coerce.
The characterisation is vivid and varied and each person has their own distinct voice within the narrative as a whole. What is most refreshing for me is that none of the women fall into stereotypes making the plot less predictable and their personal stories show a commonality between people who at first seem Pole opposite and culminate in a brilliant act of altruism that warrants much praise.
A strong four star read.
Thanks to netgalley for the ARC via publishers HarperCollins