The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, by Balli Kaur Jaswal (Review)

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The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters
by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Cultural

Length: 320 Pages

Release date: April 30, 2019

Publisher: William Morrow

Synopsis: 

The author of the Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows follows her acclaimed America debut with this life-affirming, witty family drama—an Indian This Is Where I Leave You—about three Punjabi sisters embarking on a pilgrimage to their homeland to lay their mother to rest.

The British-born Punjabi Shergill sisters—Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirina—were never close and barely got along growing up, and now as adults, have grown even further apart. Rajni, a school principal is a stickler for order. Jezmeen, a thirty-year-old struggling actress, fears her big break may never come. Shirina, the peacemaking “good” sister married into wealth and enjoys a picture-perfect life.

On her deathbed, their mother voices one last wish: that her daughters will make a pilgrimage together to the Golden Temple in Amritsar to carry out her final rites. After a trip to India with her mother long ago, Rajni vowed never to return. But she’s always been a dutiful daughter, and cannot, even now, refuse her mother’s request. Jezmeen has just been publicly fired from her television job, so the trip to India is a welcome break to help her pick up the pieces of her broken career. Shirina’s in-laws are pushing her to make a pivotal decision about her married life; time away will help her decide whether to meekly obey, or to bravely stand up for herself for the first time.

Arriving in India, these sisters will make unexpected discoveries about themselves, their mother, and their lives—and learn the real story behind the trip Rajni took with their Mother long ago—a momentous journey that resulted in Mum never being able to return to India again.

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is a female take on the Indian travel narrative. “I was curious about how different the trip would be if it were undertaken by women, who are vulnerable to different dangers in a male-dominated society,” Balli Kaur Jaswal writes. “I also wanted to explore the tensions between tradition and modernity in immigrant communities, and particularly how those tensions play out among women like these sisters, who are the first generation to be raised outside of India.”

Powerful, emotionally evocative, and wonderfully atmospheric, The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is a charming and thoughtful story that illuminates the bonds of family, sisterhood, and heritage that tether us despite our differences. Funny and heartbreaking, it is a reminder of the truly important things we must treasure in our lives.ratingfive

My thanks to William Morrow and Girly Book Club for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

Balli Kaur Jaswal, author of past Reese Witherspoon Book Club and Girly Book Club pick Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, is back with a new novel, The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters! Sisters Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirina are reeling from the recent death of their mother, but determined to fulfill her dying request: take a pilgrimage back to her homeland, India, visiting all the places she’d been to ill to go see one last time. Born and raised in England, the sisters gain a sense of appreciation for their heritage and for one another on their journey. 
 
Jaswal has a remarkable ability to imbue her novels with a lightheartedness and sense of humor while still grappling with serious issues. The three sisters in this novel must learn to overcome the emotional distance and secrets that have grown between them over the years. They also struggle with being treated as outsiders/tourists in India despite being there for deeply meaningful reasons for their Indian mother, as well as coming to grips with India as a relatively male-dominated society. The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters reads like a feel-good book, but it quickly becomes clear that Jaswal has loaded the story with plenty of substance as well. 
 
If you loved Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, you’ll fall head over heels for the Shergill sisters. Jaswal demonstrated her talent with her last novel, and it’s clear that she’s only grown as a writer since then! I’ve often cited Punjabi Widows as being a pleasant surprise for me; I read it for a book club meeting and never would have picked it out for myself, but ended up thoroughly enjoying it. I went into Shergill Sisters with high expectations and still ended up being pleasantly surprised all over again. I can’t wait to see what Balli Kaur Jaswal writes next! 

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Review – Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal


Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows 
by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 304 Pages

Release date: March 9, 2017

Synopsis: 

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.

rating

four

“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.

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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?

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