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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Thank you for reading! Tell me about a novel you love with strong cultural themes in the comments! What did you love about it?

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