Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Length: 304 Pages
Release date: March 9, 2017
A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls.
Every woman has a secret life . . .
Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.
Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.
As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.
“Out of all the opportunities Britain offered us, choice was the most important thing.”
This novel was such a pleasant surprise for me. It was the Girly Book Club selection for October, and definitely not something I would have picked out for myself. For those who may be wondering like I was, yes, this book does contain actual erotic stories. The main narrative is broken up with samples of the short stories composed by the widows in Nikki’s class. If this would make you uncomfortable, this may not be the book for you; while it would be easy to skip over these passages, I feel you’d miss something crucial to the heart of the novel, as these stories often reveal things about the characters who tell them.
This was an immensely character-driven novel. While I expected to mainly connect with Nikki from the very beginning, I was surprised by the extent of my affection for the widows in her class by the time I finished the book. These older women feel isolated in more ways than one. They are immigrants in Britain and feel unwelcome there. They were relegated to the role of “wife” within the Indian community, and feel discarded after the loss of their husbands. They are lonely, bored, and simply looking for a way to fill their time with other women like themselves when they find their way to Nikki’s class.
Nikki is a huge contrast from these characters; born and raised in Britain and living in London away from the Punjabi community, she is excessively “modern” for their tastes, and struggles to connect with them. Watching her relationship with these women develop as they find a mutual sense of affection and respect was easily one of the major highlights of the novel.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is imbued with feminist themes, Indian culture, generational clashes, a bit of mystery… and more than a splash of romance. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and fun.
Thanks for reading! What was the last book you picked up that was outside of your comfort zone, and what was your experience with it?