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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli…

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (2017)

by Balli Kaur Jaswal

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  activelearning | Apr 23, 2017 |
Full disclosure: I was given an ARC of this book by the publisher in return for an honest review.

As a person who spends much of his days reading science fiction, crime and graphic novels, I've got a lot of time for someone who wants to stand up and defend a much-maligned genre. Here, Balli Kaur Jaswal makes the case for erotica as a liberating medium that allows (primarily) women to explore their agency and embrace their sexuality. The popular distaste for erotica – E. L. James's prose style aside –is founded on a deep-seated conservatism and sense of shame. That's particularly evident in the Sikh immigrant community Jaswal depicts here, but it's something I recognise in the wider community as well.

That insight afforded into the Sikh community of Southall really is fascinating. It's a community I admit I had no idea existed, but one of the great uses of literature is, of course, to afford us pseudo-experiences of lives and places we could never normally experience. And, to be a tad egocentric, you also end up learning a lot about your own community: what is innate to a place (in this case London) and what are assumptions particular to your lived experience.

If that's a bit heavy it's also worth pointing out Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is a very funny book – not that it could be too furrow-browed with a title like that. The widows themselves, their bitching and joshing, are a delight. I can easily imagine this book having the same crossover appeal as East is East or Bend It Like Beckham – though the fact those are my reference points perhaps tell you more about me than it does the book.

There were a few things that jarred for me and prevented me giving the book a higher score: I sometimes found the dialogue a little incredible (does anybody who isn't hugely irritating ever refer to a former boyfriend or girlfriend with a straight face as "a lover"?); the idea of Nikki's desire for self-expression verging into solipsism, which I thought was the most interesting thing about the character, seems to disappear in the middle of the novel; and a particular key subplot does take a long time to come into focus. But those are relatively minor reservations: this isn't the sort of book I would normally pick up but I am immensely glad I did; I learnt something.

I mean, I'm not about to start reading Razzle on the train, but I might be ever so slightly less suspicious of those who do. ( )
  m_k_m | Mar 6, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062645129, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 24 Jan 2017 19:22:17 -0500)

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