STARRED REVIEW
June 13, 2017

The stories women can tell

Balli Kaur Jaswal

Indian civilization produced the Kama Sutra and sculpture of unsurpassed lasciviousness, yet its Bollywood films spare no artifice to prevent its leads from kissing. Some Indians will tell you the British made them into prudes. Others blame Islam. These tensions and the hypocrisies they entail inform Balli Kaur Jaswal’s entertaining novel.

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Indian civilization produced the Kama Sutra and sculpture of unsurpassed lasciviousness, yet its Bollywood films spare no artifice to prevent its leads from kissing. Some Indians will tell you the British made them into prudes. Others blame Islam. These tensions and the hypocrisies they entail inform Balli Kaur Jaswal’s entertaining novel.

Its main character, Nikki, is a young Punjabi woman living in London. When her sister announces her intention to have an arranged marriage, Nikki posts her sister’s advert at the local Sikh community center. There she stumbles into teaching a class in English to the aforementioned widows. But the women end up composing erotica, much of it told in full. In this the novel resembles the Decameron of Boccaccio, if one wishes to be charitable. But the widows’ stories are even more provocative.

Needless to say, word gets out. Among those alarmed is a group called the Brotherhood. Suggestive of the Muslim Brotherhood, they are in practice more like the Taliban. They harass women who go about with heads uncovered. But despite these intimidations, as well as mild alarm from the woman who first hired her, Nikki falls under the spell of the widows’ titillating yarns. Meanwhile, Nikki has her own love interest and even gets entangled in a mystery involving a newlywed presumed to have burned herself to death.

As for the author, Jaswal seems well past caring whether her novel will give offense. The tone throughout is one of impish glee, and the erotica is convincing despite its humorous frame. At times the novel screams chick lit, but the cultural milieu adds a new twist on the Bridget Jones subgenre.

It also lays waste to many a cherished stereotype. Readers will never think of Punjabi widows quite the same way. They may be more Kama Sutra than Bollywood.

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

By Balli Kaur Jaswal
Morrow
ISBN 9780062645128

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