Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories for Punjabi WidowsErotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title is not a mistake, but it is a bit misleading. A group of Punjabi widows in London join a writing class by Nikki, a young, modern, London-born Punjabi woman. What Nikki thought would be a creative writing course turned askew when she learned most of the women could not read or write, or had minimal literacy skills. The class turned into a story-telling class, and, yes, the stories became raunchy as these widows seemed to be hornier than people imagined. For propriety’s sake, the tales mostly involve the ladies’ own husbands. They are more graphic than I would have expected, so if you’re not mentally prepared for bodice-ripping (or salwar kameez ripping) lustful raunch, just skip the italicized portions. They don’t take up much of the book.

That setup is the framework for a story focused on the differences and difficulties between the generations within the Punjabi community, but, more broadly, between traditional cultures and today’s more permissive western society. While not a murder mystery per se, the plot also involves a mysterious death. Nikki falls into danger while she and her sister both find themselves in romantic entanglements. To say more would be a spoiler.

Some readers may find it sort of cute that these old ladies are as lustful as they are, but at times it almost seems as a cheap trick to get some low-grade smut into the book. Another drawback for a white American male reader is that the book contains a great deal of Punjabi terms and cultural references. I know almost nothing about Sikh/Punjabi/London culture. I was looking stuff up on my phone pretty much to the very end. There’s also a lot geographical knowledge of London required to fully appreciate what’s going on, i.e., which areas are ethnic, or hip, or dangerous, etc. I think the book was written primarily with a British/Indian audience in mind. There were virtually no explanations of the various terms or customs used for the rest of us.

You may wonder how I came to choose to read this. Tired of my usual sources, I decided to search online for “books with good non-political stories” or words to that effect. I checked some of the links on the first page and one book blogger had a list of ten described almost exactly that way. As it happened, I’d read two of them and liked them both, so I was encouraged to try this one. I’m not exactly disappointed in it, but neither can I say I really enjoyed it. It passed the time until my next book on hold at the library came in.

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