*****4.5 stars for this unexpected delight of a story. I don’t read erotic books. I don’t read stories with pictures of half-naked men on the cover. I steer clear of anything that seems to be mainly about sex. It’s not that I’m a prude, it’s the fact that a certain ridiculously popular book for middle aged women featuring an abusive man that everyone swooned over because he was rich kind of ruined my view of any erotic books.
Still, this was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick and I love most of what the book club picks. I was hesitant that the book would be all erotic stories, but I was pleasantly surprised. There was not too many and for the most part, they were tastefully done. (There was one or two that I completely skimmed over…mostly because I was on the beach and the kids were trying to read over my shoulder.) This book was also informative and thought provoking. In addition, I learned a lot about a culture of people that I have often come in contact with in my own job, but knew very little about.
Nikki is a young Indian woman living in London. Her parents were not tremendously traditional, but her mother still has qualms about her moving out and living on her own after her father dies unexpectedly following an argument with her about dropping out of law school. Her sister is looking for an arranged marriage at the same time (which seemed more like eHarmony or one of those other dating sites rather than what I had thought was an arranged marriage, but what do I know…) and her mother’s emotions range from fearful for Nikki’s safety, to guilting Nikki for “abandoning” her on a regular basis (almost like an Italian mother…there’s constants in every culture it seems).
Needless to say, Nikki is feeling conflicted about her life and her future, guilt featuring prominently in her thoughts. In the process of hanging a flyer on an arranged marriage board in the Indian temple for her sister, she finds a job (and a man, but he is more of a secondary story in this book). Nikki meets Kulwinder who is running the classes. Kulwinder instantly dislikes Nikki, but it’s slim pickings for a teacher for the class so she hires her. Nikki thinks she will be teaching Punjabi widows how to pen their memoirs, but it turns out, these widows can’t even read or write English except for one who is in her thirties. She tries to teach them basic English, but it’s an abysmal failure. Instead, they resort to telling stories…stories that make Nikki blush…stories that fill a void in the lives of these widows. No one thinks of older women as being sensual or having any needs besides basic ones, but these widows knocked that theory right out of the park.
The way they have lived their lives, sometimes downright oppressively, angered me. Why should they be deprived of what men consider their right? Why shouldn’t they experience everything they can? They lived vicariously through the stories they tell (and some experiences that they were too afraid to admit they had), but the class can have serious repercussions for them in the Pujabi community, as Nikki soon discovers.
There are many restrictions on these widows and many secrets in their community that the class indirectly threatens to expose, putting Nikki and some of the other women in grave danger.
If you’re looking for a book that engages your mind and your heart at the same time, I would highly recommend Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows.
Just don’t leave the book on the coffee table or you’ll find your 13 year old thumbing through it with wide eyes…not that I know from experience or anything…