Have you ever come across a book with a title that makes you laugh and feel a bit hesitant about picking it up? Experience in this area has taught me to push the hesitancy aside and read the synopsis, because you never know what treasures are hidden within the pages.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows definitely made me pause and laugh when I first saw the title on Reese Witherspoon’s book club Instagram page. I was hesitant, but I reminded myself that I love books that shed light on cultures, especially my own, and I might be missing out on something great. So the next time I was browsing in my favourite bookstore, I made a point of picking up this book and reading the synopsis. I realized this book was more than it seemed and I could not run to the cash fast enough. Literally ran (ok fine, power walked) to the cashier with a goofy smile on my face. You know that “I’m-about-to-read-something-great” smile. So began a journey with one of the funniest, insightful and important reads of 2018.
This story introduces us to Nikki, the modern daughter of Indian immigrants who takes a job teaching a creative writing class for modest Punjabi widows. Nikki realizes that many of the women are illiterate but they have many unexpected erotic stories they want to tell. These widows do not hold back as they pour their creativity, experiences and imagination into their stories, shocking their teacher and giving her a new purpose in life. The stories that make these women feel free and empowered are the same stories that are forbidden by a group of Sikh men who call themselves the “Brothers” and appointed themselves as the town’s moral police. Nikki is about to realize how little she knows about her tight-knit community, and how many secrets she has yet to uncover.
This book completely captivated me. There are so many colourful characters that jump out at you and come to life in these pages. For me, that is a mark of a talented author. The stories written by the widows were hilarious and I could not get the image of elder women with white dupattas (scarves) on their heads writing such scandalous stories. I lost count on how many times I collapsed in a laughing fit by the dialogue between the older ladies. Brilliant writing!
A big theme in this book is about traditional families and the shame attached to their daughters who step out of line from what is expected of them. The book also explores the consequences of policing women in how to behave. Womanhood is explored through many different perspectives and across generations. Culture is also explored through the eyes of immigrant parents and their modern children. Old secrets that have long been buried resurface and horrendous unsolved crimes are brought to light. From start to finish, there was not a dull moment in this book. One of my favourite take away messages from this book is that everyone has a story to tell, and that there is a writer in all of us.