Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

The Southall, London, Sikh community gets a sexual awakening when an adult literacy course becomes an adult literature workshop in Balli Kaur Jaswal's U.S. debut, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows.

Modern but struggling Nikki begrudgingly agrees to post her traditional sister's profile on their Sikh temple marriage board. There she discovers an opportunity to prove to her family and herself that she's not a complete failure. She takes a job teaching what she thinks is a creative writing class for women. The course is the brainchild of Kulwinder Kaur, the temple's new community development director, but it quickly becomes apparent that Nikki and Kulwinder have conflicting notions of what these classes are for. The students, primarily widows, are illiterate. Nevertheless, they are a sharp, lively bunch who begin an eye-opening new oral tradition after discovering a collection of erotica in Nikki's bag.

The storytelling sessions are as sexy as they are hilarious. But religious communities are often known more for their rumor mills than their sexual openness, and the Sikhs in Southall are no exception. Some young women have even turned up dead for not conforming to traditions of honor, and Nikki and her students are in danger as the classes grow more and more popular.

While the expectations of one generation don't always align with the experiences of another, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows makes an excellent case for continued conversation. As one student puts it: "These storytelling sessions are good fun but I think I've also learned to speak up for what I want. Exactly what I want." This novel is a treat, sure to leave readers breathless--more than once. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

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