Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows follows the women of a British Sikh community in London. Nikki is a young, very westernised Punjabi Sikh girl who lives over the pub where she works. She’s faced family despair and disapproval, but she’s still in touch with her mother and her much more conservative sister. She takes a job teaching a storytelling class at a gurdwara, only to find that most of the women there – all respectable widows of the community – can’t read or write in English, and turned up thinking that that was what they were going to learn.
Of course, as the title suggests, the class quickly descends into an erotica-writing group after the widows find a Mills & Boon in Nikki’s bag while she’s out of the room – managed as the women dictate to the one who can write in English, and the stories begin to spread. This plot becomes entwined with another: that of a girl who apparently committed suicide years ago, and of the conservative ‘Brotherhood’ who like to police the way women behave.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is funny and uplifting, a reminder that sex isn’t just for the young, and of the power and joys of the imagination at any stage of life. It’s also deeply engaged with the social issues facing Sikh women in Britain, but this doesn’t overtake what is, fundamentally, a story of hope. Yes, there are some things that feel more like wishful thinking than optimism, but I’d cheerfully forgive that, because anything else would spoil the joy of this book.
Heartily recommend for anyone looking to enjoy some awkward penis-vegetable metaphors and a heart-warming story about a community of women coming together.
Reviewed by Louise
This review also appears on our sister site, Chapter and Verse Reviews.