Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
In winter, the days lost their shape early. The streets were blurry with shadows and traffic lights as Kulwinder walked home and thought about her day.
~p. 37 of Advance Reader Copy, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (some changes may have been made to the final print version)
Nikki is a modern, independent woman and the rebel of her family. The daughter of Sikh Indian immigrants, she is a university drop-out, formerly in law school, who lives above the pub where she tends bar. Her sister Mindi is Nikki's opposite; she just wants a traditional marriage. When Mindi asks Nikki to put her profile on the marriage board at the Punjabi community center in London's Southall, Nikki discovers a job opening for a writing teacher.
Nikki gets the job but she's surprised to find that the class is entirely composed of widows who don't know how to write in English. And, one is completely illiterate. Nikki assumes the entire scope of the course will have to change; she'll be teaching her students to write, instead. But, the widows object. They really want to tell stories, even if it means dictating them. And, the stories they want to tell are very colorful. Nikki agrees to their wishes but does so knowing that if her boss finds out what they're doing, she'll lose her job.
While Nikki encourages her students to write what they love, she also gets to know them as individuals and learns about the secrets they keep. But, what she doesn't realize is that in seeking the answers to the mystery of what happened to her boss's daughter, she is putting her own life in danger.
Recommended - I added a family warning in my blog labels because of the short stories by the widows, interspersed throughout the book, for those who may have sneaky young readers with whom one should probably read and discuss if the book gets away from you. Having said that, there's a good deal about being empowered by creativity and the fact that women become invisible as they age - both important topics - so I wouldn't panic if a youngster gets hold of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. I'd just discuss the story and its positive lessons.
There's a lot more going on than the erotic stories written by the widows that are interspersed throughout the book. Nikki starts to date someone but there are complications. Mindi is looking for love and wants encouragement from her sister but Nikki is skeptical of arranged marriages. Nikki's mom has been widowed for a couple years and Nikki still wonders if quitting law school contributed to her father's sudden death. Nikki's mother's income is becoming tighter, so Nikki really needs to keep her job but she knows it's likely not to last. And, then there's the mystery of a young woman's death, a gang of young Sikh men who go around harassing women about abiding by rules, and the fact that Nikki's first job at the pub is already threatened by loss of revenue.
Sometimes the widows made me laugh. And, toward the end of the book, there's a scene so tense that I went from lying against two plushy pillows to sitting bolt upright, hanging on every word. An excellent story with a good blend of darkness and light.
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