My first Kaur Jaswal novel came at the recommendation of my book club leader (Hi Megan!) and I adored listening to Bahni Turpin narrate the humorous and yet powerful novel. From there, I was sold on Kaur Jaswal’s writing, and eager to get my hands on her novels. She is an international bestseller, own voices writer, and an easy recommendation for anyone looking to get into diverse reading.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Published: June 13, 2017, William Morrow
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: Sikh culture & religion, sexual repression, death.
The novel introduces us to Nikki, a 20-something Sikh woman who has gone against her traditional Indian upbringing. She’s a law school drop out, tending bar in London, and single despite her family’s urging to find a husband. She’s not sure what she wants out of life, but after her father suddenly passes away, she decides to take a second job to help her support her widowed mother. While checking out a local community board, she finds an advert looking for someone to teach an English creative writing class to local Punjabi widows.
The widows aren’t exactly what Nikki expects. They’re not all little old grannies, only one knows how to actually read and write in English, and though they are modest, traditional women, they are eager to explore a more modern expression of their bedroom experiences and fantasies. As a joke, Nikki had bought a racy book of erotica for her more conservative sister, and the widows found it in the stack of writing workbooks meant for the class. After Nikki confronts her class about the misunderstanding, the widows convince Nikki that those stories are the kind they wish to learn to write. In an effort to liberate these women from their repressed expression, she agrees, thinking that maybe this is how she can be reconnected with her community while still maintaining her modern views.
I loved the audiobook narrator, Meera Syal. Her voice is like butter, and yet the changes in her tone for dialogue and breaks in the story were easy to understand and made it easy to focus on the tale. I also think listening to the audiobook certainly helped with understanding certain cultural words that I probably would have stumbled over if I was reading. I liked being able to hear the pronunciation.
Jaswal’s story is both funny, thrilling, entertaining, and downright steamy! I really enjoyed it, and though I’d recommend it, you should be warned that there really are erotic story snippets included in this book! There’s clever dialogue that takes the “audience rating” down a notch, but the title is not misleading. I’d say it’s definitely not suitable for the youngsters, but certainly a fun read for women.
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters
Published: April 20, 2019, William Morrow
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: pregnancy, cancer, women’s rights, Sikh culture & religion, sexual assault, prison, suicide, death.
The novel introduces three sisters – Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirina. Rajni is the eldest, a strict Type A who helped her single mother raise her much younger sisters, and is struggling with her son’s girlfriend who is almost twice his age. Jezmeen is a struggling actress who, after a poorly timed break-up and accidental viral Youtube video, is eager to take off for India with her sisters on a spiritual journey on behalf of their mother’s death bed request. Then there’s Shirina, who despite a modern upbringing in the UK decided to go traditional routes by having an arranged marriage and moved to Australia to live with her husband and his family, under one roof.
The three sisters aren’t that close and have always been at odds with each other, but now that their mother has left them to fulfill her last wishes by traveling together and spreading her ashes, they must cooperate. However, these three strong and independent women keep finding themselves in trouble in India. As one thing after another disrupts their trip, the three sisters have to start focusing on each other, and stop worrying about their own personal problems.
It’s a beautifully woven story of sisterhood and it’s complexities, as well as traditional verses contemporary spiritual journey. I absolutely adored Kaur Jaswal’s novel, and her writing is both fun and poetic. She knows how to write snappy dialogue but then get descriptive in a scenic moment. I not only felt like a fly on the wall of this family, but I felt like I went to India with these women too- bathing in the Ganges, visiting the temples, and going to the market.
In the end, this novel had me both teary-eyed and cackling with memories of my own sisterly dramas. If you’re looking for your fix of drama, comedy, and wanderlust this summer, this is the perfect read for you!