‘Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows’ by Balli Kaur Jaswal

‘Every woman has a hidden life…’, this is how the blurb on the back of the book begins, and how true this is. “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows’ tell the story of Nikki, a young British – Punjabi woman who was supposed to teach a creative writing class but which ends up as a…well, I guess I’m not spoiling anything, class for Punjabi widows who find their voices and start writing or imaging erotic stories.

Many of the reviews of this book mention how funny this book is, and I have to admit that I did laugh on many occasions, but I’m somewhat disappointed by the reviews who seemingly reduce this book to a comedic depiction of a bunch of old women making up sexy stories. It is so much more. It tackles ageism, sexism, racism, and cultural and intergenerational clashes.

The book also touches on issues like immigration and integration, how communities often stick together and resist integration, which, according to many current political discourses is obviously bad, but the book demonstrates why certain communities, and especially its older members, often resist becoming part of the societies of their new countries. The book also shows that resistance to integration is not the worst thing in the world, that some communities may not become part of the larger national community in the UK, for example, but that they can live perfectly peacefully in their realm, and nevertheless directly contribute to the flourishing of the wider host-community.

Another important theme is the importance of freedom and the liberation of women within a society and community that’d prefer for them to smile politely and be quiet. The book shows how a mixture of cultures, which is embodied by Nikki, who is unmistakably Punjabi but who has also been raised in the UK and has adopted some its positive values, can result in utterly positive and life-changing moments.

Apart from the more serious underlying themes, the book is also just lovely and heartwarming. The voices are authentic, the characters are fully fleshed out, and they’re portrayed honestly will all their flaws and loveable qualities. The widows and Nikki quickly become the friends you love to spend your evenings with. I was so sad when I finished the book and am still recovering from a major book hangover… I listened to the audiobook version of the book and absolutely loved the reader’s performance, her ability to adapt the different accents and pronunciations of the characters, and her ability to distinguish the characters from each other through her voice, giving them life and love.