Perhaps passion and excitement were meant to be secondary to a stable adult life.EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
Today’s review comes to you courtesy of a Buzzfeed list called 13 Books To Read After Crazy Rich Asians. Y’all know I devoured CRA, so I dived right into this list (bonus points for the list’s first entry!). With a growing number of Indian and British friends, I was intrigued by the intersection present within Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (2017). As well, the author is Singaporean so she has a similar outsider perspective as myself.
As well, what red-blooded woman isn’t tickled by a title like this? Widows are so often marginalized in society; even more so in Sikh society as I learned. With their husbands gone, how could they possibly feel passion? In a country where they don’t speak or write much of the language, how can they broach these repressed feelings? Religious law mandates much of their public life, but what about in private?
Spoiler: Yes, the widows’ stories are most definitely erotic. I’ve never read that gray-tinged book, and while this is milder (and better written) than that, it’s definitely still steamy. But often hilarious, too.
Though born in Singapore, Balli Kuar Jaswal has lived on three continents during her life. Due to her time in Australia, her first novel won the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Best Young Young Australian Novelist Award in 2014. The inspiration for her third novel came from her time spent in Southall, as well as her family roots in Punjab. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows was released to international acclaim in 2017.
While this novel was written originally in English, it was optioned for translation in 11 countries and languages. As well, throughout the book, characters switch between Punjabi and English—with varying degrees of success. Some terms are kept in the original language as well, which really helped keep me in the setting.
‘Sat sri akal. Sorry I’m late.’
‘Hanh, yes, yes, but it’s all water under the tables now,’ she said, pleased to have remembered an English idiom.EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
What I loved:
The cultural struggle. I really enjoy reading about people that have incredibly different lives from me. I’m fully white and a 5th generation Texan. No one in my family has ever struggled to adapt to a new country or culture (except when I travel, of course). Nikki’s struggle to reconcile her Punjabi family foundation with her daily British life, especially as she spent more time with widows, was fascinating. She couldn’t deny her history but didn’t want to be trapped.
Spoiler: Nikki was able to find her future by embracing both sides of herself, predictably but still satisfying. Working with the women, embracing their language and bringing them into an open and sexually aware modern world brought passion and acceptance into all their lives.
Through the windows of the connecting bus to the temple, the sight of more bilingual signs on shop fronts gave Nikki a slight headache and the sensation of being split in two parts. British, Indian.EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
‘American,’ Jason said. ‘And Punjabi. And Sikh, obviously.’ He gestured at the temple. ‘And yourself? ‘British and Punjabi and Sikh,’ Nikki said. It had been a long time since she had identified herself in all of those terms at once.EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
The language issues. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I am always delighted by language issues that become plot points within my books. It’s just so meta! In this case, the widows are illiterate (some in English and Punjabi) and most only speak Punjabi and struggle to express their stories. On the other hand, Nikki has a limited vocabulary in Punjabi, but has a nearly complete legal degree. No one was perfect!
Nikki was still talking. She spoke Punjabi with less confidence, peppering her sentences with English words. ‘…and it’s my belief that everyone has stories to telling. It would be such a rewarding experience to help Punjabi women to crafting their stories and compile them into a book.’EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
“Tell me, why haven’t I picked up English? Because of the English.’ She said this triumphantly. ‘They haven’t made their country or their customs friendly to me. Now their language is just as unfriendly with their Ahh-Oooh sounds.’EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
The sly humor. Between Nikki’s sarcasm going over the widows’ heads, Jason’s flirtatious jokes and the widows’ own sly humor, this book was really fun. Besides passion, I think humor was also sorely lacking in the lives of these widows. As well, the author’s experience with Punjabi culture helped flavor the story with dark commentary humor.
‘When I decide to get married, Bibi Manjeet, you’ll be the first to know,’ Nikki replied. ‘Don’t do that’, Arvinder said with a frown. ‘Tell your family first.’EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
It would be easier to be a criminal prosecuted by the law than an Indian daughter who wronged her family. A crime would be punishable by a jail sentence of definite duration rather than this uncertain length of family guilt trips.EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
‘At least you get to know the person before marrying him. You can separate the idiots from the bloody idiots.’EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
‘I didn’t hear a word of that because I’m thinking about my grandmother making sex-roti,’ Jason said with a grimace. ‘Bum bread,’ Nikki said. ‘Tushy toast,’ Jason laughed.EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
What I liked:
The feminism. In the Punjabi culture, men and women practice strict separation in the gurdwara, especially from older widows. Therefore, the women in Nikki’s class have to carve out new methods of expression and creativity. They never think of themselves as lesser than men—if anything they are more flexible, communicative and dedicated.
Spoiler: Eventually, their erotic stories are passed from woman to woman throughout London’s Indian community, inspiring men and women to renewed passion. Kulwinder is also given a promotion and new office due to her success with the program.
Her purpose came into sharp focus. ‘Some people don’t even know about this place,’ she would say. ‘Let’s change that.’ Fiery-eyed and indignant, they would pen their stories for the whole world to read.EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
‘We’d be invisible in India,’ Arvinder said. ‘I suppose it makes no difference that we’re in England. You must think it’s wrong of us to discuss these things because we shouldn’t be thinking of them.’EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
‘These storytelling sessions are good fun but I think I’ve also learned to speak up for what I want. Exactly what I want.’EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
The characterization. Due to their lively dialogue and passionate stories, I had trouble distinguishing between the “young” old widows and the truly old widows. The sign of a good author is demonstrating that so many traits are universal across age and religion. We all crave love and companionship. For some of the widows, they had to sacrifice for their daughters.
‘I gave you all the happiness I couldn’t have. You loved your husband, your marriage. Good for you, I survived mine.’EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS
What I could do without:
The mystery. Honestly I was more interested by the personal interplay and cultural conflict, even Nikki’s romance. The mystery of Maya’s death, Tarampal’s connection, and the Brothers’ power trip were just distractions from the main fun. Yes, the widows’ stories were tantalizing, but their journey to creative freedom was even more exciting.
If you have read nothing else in this post, read this: Reese Witherspoon added Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows to her book club in March of 2018! This is a woman that’s friends with Oprah. Remember the Oprah Effect?
If you do still care what I think, I recommend not only reading this book but passing it on to a boyfriend/husband/partner. It’s important for couples to know both sides of the coin. 5* on Amazon y’all! You should also read it soon because the film rights have already been snapped up. Let me know in the comments: who do you think should play Nikki?