I saw Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal on Netgalley and just knew by the name that I had to read it. I’ve been trying to read a more varied collection of books this year, rather than my usual fantasy reads, and I love to learn about different cultures so I thought this would be great. Don’t be put off by the unusual title, as this is a heartwarmingand enlightening read. I thought this was such an interesting concept, blending the Punjabi and British cultures that many people are embracing in London, combined with the traditional and modern views of sex and erotic stories. I’m going to give you a synopsis first, considering this is my first Netgalley ARC review and I want to get it right, and then share my opinion with you all!
Every woman has a secret life… With visions of emancipating the women of the Sikh community she left behind as a self-important teenager, Nikki is shocked to find her creative writing class is a group of barely literate women who have no interest in her ideals of liberation. To her surprise, the white dupatta of the widow hides more than just their modesty – these are women who have spent their lives in the shadows of fathers, brothers and husbands; being dutiful, raising children and going to temple, but whose inner lives are as rich and fruitful as their untold stories. As they begin to open up to each other about womanhood, sexuality, and the dark secrets within the community, Nikki realises that the illicit nature of the class may place them all in danger. East meets west and tradition clashes with modernism in a thought-provoking cross-cultural novel that might make you look again at the women in your life…
I really loved immersing myself into another culture whilst reading this book. Set in Southall, a predominantly Punjabi community in London, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Women sees the collision of the two cultures as the old and the young learn to live their life amongst British culture. I didn’t know much about Southall before but it was interesting to see the difference between Nikki, who lived in central London, and the women who lived in the Punjabi community in Southall. I found the story quite slow starting due to the very long chapters, however the narrative kept me intrigued. It was obvious from the start that the traditional and more modern ways of dating, and life in general, push the narrative forward.
The characters were believable and real. I liked how Nikki and her sister, Mindi, had chosen to live different lives despite the same upbringing and beliefs, with Nikki wanting to live what we might call a ‘British dating lifestyle’ but with Mindi preferring an arranged marriage. Of course the twist was the writing classes and the secret desires of the Punjabi widows. I thought this was a great look into the real lives of the women, opposing what we see on the surface. I was initially a little bit surprised by the inclusion of erotic writing, but once I was used to it it definitely added to the effect of the novel. There was a big contrast of secrecy and honesty as the widows opened up about their sexual desires but dealt with the pressures of family honour, too. The story started to build quite quickly when the nature of the stories clashed with the expected community morals and the novel really gripped me then. I wanted the women to be able to express themselves in every way, but I was afraid of the consequences looming in the distance. The story ended really nicely by tying together each culture and the different ways of living, liberating each character in their own way, whether freeing them from a tragedy, societal expectations, or their own personal battles.
Overall this was an enjoyable novel that explored the importance of honesty over honour and hope over fear. I grew to love each and every widow and every other character within the story. Despite finding it a slight slow start, I ended up being drawn into the story and wanting the dramatic climax to be resolved. The ending was satisfying and I felt that each woman had grown throughout and that change would happen in their lives. I loved immersing myself into another culture and I learnt a lot throughout the novel. I don’t typically use a rating system for my reviews but if I did this would earn a 3/5. It was a fun and light read to keep me entertained throughout a busy time.
Thank you to HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, and Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for a review.