Tuesday, April 30, 2019
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is the story of three sisters who go to their ancestral homeland, India, to visit holy sites and perform various rituals in honor of their mother's dying wishes.
The beginning of the book reminded me of the first book I read by Jaswal, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. Although dying and in agony, the matriarch of the Shergill family is hilarious. She overhears the woman in the bed next to hers dictating a letter and gets the idea of doing something similar. Then, she realizes that if she asks her daughters to do something as a last request, they're much more likely to fulfill her wish because she's dying. So, she asks them to go to India together to do the things she longed to do, herself.
As we're getting to know the Shergill family, secrets are dangled. What's in the jewelry case Mrs. Shergill is afraid the nurses will find? What did Rajni do to cause her mother trouble when they made a trip to India, many years ago? Why did Jezmeen lose her job and what's up with her obsessive need to check for likes on YouTube? What drove Shirina into a marriage on the other side of the globe and what does her husband expect her to do before returning home from India?
Having written all that, I am suddenly realizing that I like this book more upon reflection than I did while reading it and that's absolutely not the author's fault. There were two things interfering with my enjoyment of reading The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters. One was that I was going through a slight reading slump and I probably should have just kept looking till I found something that broke the slump rather than continuing to read a book with the expectation that it would eventually pull me in. I think it was the fact that I so loved Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows and knew how beautifully Jaswal can pull together all the elements of a story that kept me going. And, she did indeed pull everything together to create a very satisfying ending.
The second problem I had was the fact that the mother was dying of cancer and then, after she died, the sisters kept reflecting back to her dying days and how much pain she was in. Since my mother died of cancer and I was there during her last months as caregiver, that hit a little too close to home. I would have had the latter problem regardless of when I read it. I just probably should have saved it for another day because of the not-grabbing-me thing. Having said all that, I enjoyed the elements and there were some wonderful scenes that I keep replaying in my head. Some of the secrets were a little too readily apparent, but I didn't care. Jaswal knows how to tell a story, how to keep you turning the pages and how to wrap things up in an immensely satisfying way. The timing may have been off for me, but I still appreciated The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters. And, I loved the ending.
Recommended - A story of three sisters getting to know each other, the family dynamics that led to the distance between them, and the imperfection of their journey versus the requests their mother made. While the way things went wrong was entertaining, I particularly enjoyed the growing relationship between the sisters as the book progressed and the way things were wrapped up in the end. One of the sisters had a problem that could have gone either way but the author chose the more satisfying ending for her, the one that required summoning a strength of character she didn't realize she had within her. Love Jaswal's writing and now that I've taken the time to look, I realize she has a backlist to delve into, as well. Wahoo for that!
I received an advance reader copy of The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters from HarperCollins. Many thanks! I'm labeling this a "road trip" book, although that's obviously a bit inaccurate since the sisters all have to fly to India and then they get local transport (taxis, the train, etc.) within India. It's about a journey, so . . . close enough. And, now that I've mentioned taxis I'm reminded of my favorite character in the book: Tom Hanks. You should read the book for Tom Hanks alone. He'll make you smile.
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