Title: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: March 9, 2017
My Rating: 4/5
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.
Nikki is at a bit of a standstill in her life and is looking for a new direction. She dropped out of law school and is currently working as a bartender, much to the disappointment of her family. While at a local community center in a London Punjabi neighborhood, she notices a job posting for a creative writing class. She takes the job thinking it will help her resume and it will be a way she can save up some extra money.
At the first class meeting, she is surprised to learn that the women, who are all Punjabi widows, cannot read or write English. They are in class to learn English, not how to write short stories.
Before the next class, Nikki stops in a shop to purchase some materials to help the women learn English. On a lark, she also picks up a book of erotic stories to send her sister as a joke. While Nikki steps away from class, one of the women, the only one who can read and write English, notices the book in Nikki’s bag and starts reading aloud to the class. This leads to the women laughing and saying they would rather read and write stories like that than the children’s study materials Nikki has given them.
In a way, the class becomes a creative writing class after all. The women tell erotic stories, with the one woman who writes English writing everything down as the women tell them. Since it would not be safe for the women if others found out about what they were up to, they need to keep it quiet about what they do in class. Eventually, word starts to spread about the class.
This Punjabi neighborhood is a very traditional Sikh community. The widows were all in arranged marriages, some of which were not so good. They consider themselves to be invisible in the community. Nikki is a young woman who identifies as British and Punjabi and Sikh, but she leads a more independent and Western lifestyle than most in the Punjabi community. This opens the door for Nikki to introduce new ideas and help the women learn to express themselves.
I found Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows to be a very interesting read. It’s a story of immigrants, with a bit of feminism thrown in, plus some steamy storytelling. I loved how these lonely, isolated women became stronger and more independent as the story progressed. And it’s not just about the older women, Nikki learns a few things herself as the story moves along. It’s a great story about women being supportive of one another. It’s written in a lighthearted way, and is both amusing and uplifting.
I would consider this novel to fall under the genre of contemporary fiction, but be aware that the stories the women tell are erotic in nature.