I found Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal ($33.50, HarperCollin) a hard read, but an interesting one.

The book is a story about Nikki, a modern young Punjabi, who lives in London, England, where she works at a local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her life distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent Western life. Needing money, Nikki impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community centre in the close-knit Punjabi community, and creative writing is certainly what they do.

The proper Sikh widows, who have baffling cultural rules and expectations, end up spending their class sharing erotic stories.
“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,” reads the book summary. “But when the widows’ gossip offer 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.”

I really liked Nikki. I thought she was a great character, who, like many people, is being pulled in various directions all while trying to be true to herself and helping her family as is expected. I also liked the relationship between Nikki and Jason, the man she meets during the course of the book. I also enjoyed reading the relationship between Nikki and her sister Mindi as well as her mother.

I had a really hard time with the cultural expectations of the widows. I found the whole “don’t shame your family”, “don’t shame your community” really hard to read. Much like Nikki, I couldn’t get my head around the fact that one of the widows in her creative writing class was married at 10 to a much older man. Ten! I understand that was done, and is likely still done, in various parts of the world. What I don’t get or understand is why these same women would force the same thing on their children, who were born and grew up in a country where they have choices.

The book is quite different from anything I have read before, which made for an interesting read. It was also interesting to read about the Punjabi/Sikh community.

As a note, the book contains a number of the erotic stories shared by the women in the group, many of which are quite descriptive. And while enjoyed what happened when the stories were shared, I wonder how realistic those outcomes actually are.

A copy of this book was provided by HarperCollins for an honest review. The opinions are my own.