Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (Balli Kaur Jaswal) – book review

I must admit to a little trepidation when I started this book as erotica is not my preferred genre. But Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, while undeniably erotic in parts, was not erotica. Rather, it was a thought-provoking story of community, love, sex and intimacy that swept me to the Punjabi community in Southall, London, and into the lives of a group of ageing widows who want to learn to write.

This is the blurb:

When Nikki takes a creative writing job at her local temple, with visions of emancipating the women of the community she left behind as a self-important teenager, she’s shocked to discover a group of barely literate women who have no interest in her ideals.

Yet 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. But 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 modernity in a thought-provoking cross-cultural novel that might make you look again at the women in your life…

Young teacher Nikki soon learns that most of the women can’t actually write a word, so she starts at the very beginning with the ABCs. What she finds is that the women are more interested in telling and sharing erotic stories from deep in their imagination (perhaps …). The stories made me laugh out loud (particularly a conversation about which vegetable best described a certain body part), they made me smile, they made me gasp (these women have amazing imaginations) … and I could not stop reading.

The lightness of the erotic storytelling is counterbalanced by multiple themes – secrets, culture, tradition, arranged marriage pros and cons, mystery, education, mother-daughter relationships, and the ongoing clashes between modern and traditional worlds. It’s vulnerable, it’s funny, it’s warm … and it makes you think. Film rights have been sold, so I’m keeping my eyes out for further news.

Monique Mulligan
For more of Monique Mulligan’s writing on books, check out her blog

Other reviews you might enjoy: