Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal is quite a genre bender. It has the hallmark elements of literary fiction blended with erotica and mystery. And while the erotica part makes it sound like a light topic, the book actually tackles serious themes like the othering of immigrants, age discrimination, claustrophobic communities, toxic honor and modernism vs tradition.
Reese picked it for her book club and it’s cool that you picked it for yours as well. I promise, your book group won’t have any of those awkward silences while discussing this book. And you can use our Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows book club discussion guide to help you get that conversation started.
Per our usual format, start with the synopsis below. Do you think it’s a good/useful description of the book? If not, why not?
Then move on to our 10 Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows book club questions and use some the following selected reviews to stimulate your book discussion.
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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows Synopsis
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal
A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls.
Every woman has a secret life . . .
Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.
Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.
As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows Book Club Questions
- At first Nikki thinks “All of the women seemed to end up the same… weary and shuffling their feet.” And then they profoundly and delightfully surprise her with their stories, their friendship, their resilience and their late night soft porn TV viewing. Did you have a favorite widow? Who was she and why did you relate to her.
- Nikki rejected Punjabi tradition so soundly that she had a falling out with her parents over it. And yet, she decided to take up teaching the class at the temple. What were her initial motives for the move and how did her motivation change over time?
- Early in the book Jason says “All I’m saying is that I’ve always been aware of the pressure to follow rules and meet expectations.” Later, we find out just how and why he experienced that pressure. What did you think of Nikki and Jason’s relationship? Would you have forgiven him for lying?
- Two thirds of the way into the book, the plot takes a murder mystery twist when Sheena tells Nikki about her suspicions regarding the deaths of Maya, Karina and Gulshan. Did you see that coming?
- Talk about the erotic stories! Which were your favorites? Did your reading glasses steam up? Did they make you want to write your own stories?
- Arranged marriages (and how they do and don’t work), were a major part of the plotting. What do you know about arranged marriages? Are they a part of your culture? Do you know anyone who is in an arranged marriage?
- Talk about Kulwinder’s journey from a strict, intimidating woman who is deeply unhappy to a loyal friend and advocate for the women of the Temple. How did you respond to Kulwinder at first? Did your feelings change?
- “Britain equaled a better life and they would have clung to that knowledge, even as this life confounded and remained foreign. Every day in this country would have been an exercise in forgiveness.” In this passage near the end of the book, Nikki is feeling sympathy for the difficulties of that the widows experienced during immigration. They were told Britain would be a better life, but then they each had adjust when they found it not so welcoming. Have you experienced that sort of displacement? Does it happen in your community?
- In Notting Hill, a couple stops Nikki to ask her for directions to Hyde Park, which she sort of fumbles. Upon walking away the wife says “maybe we should have asked someone who’s from here”. As we know, Nikki is “from here”. Have you ever witnessed or unwittingly performed this kind of othering? How do you supposed a native born person of color would react to this sort of slight?
- In an interview Jaswal says that “It seemed that women were put in charge with policing girls, because we occupied the same spaces, but they answered to men and and so much of their monitoring was about meeting the men’s expectations about how their sisters, daughters or wives should behave”. This certainly isn’t happening only in Sikh culture. What are some ways that your own culture, community or country also performs this sort of monitoring?
Selected Reviews of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
“Lest you think this is all one big bodice-ripping read, however, there is more than just eroticism here as the author explores identity, patriarchy, indoctrination and societal mores. There are also numerous subplots as she explores the tension between generations, weaves in the mysterious and unsolved deaths of two young women and all of the action takes place under the watchful eye of a self-appointed militant group, the Brothers.”
“…BUT had it not been for the giant push that Witherspoon’s book club gives it, with all those Instagram posts and stories (and possibly similar promotions on other social media channels) – I don’t think this book would have gained the popularity it has, simply on the basis of its plot and character development.”
“I found the whole concept of the erotic stories contrived…As the book progresses, we learn of the mysterious death of a young woman within the community. That part of the storyline was much more interesting to me even if it was totally apparent how it would all play out. “
“…‘Take no notice of the widows, without their husbands they’re irrelevant’…this is one of the most interesting and oft overlooked issues that this book tackles. In almost all human societies, women’s value is based entirely on their role as sex objects or caregivers (either to husbands or children). When a woman doesn’t fit either of those roles… society isn’t quite sure what to do with them and they’re treated with disdain and suspicion. By bringing this phenomenon into the light and turning it on its head, Kaur Jaswal highlights an important feminist problem.”
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3 Books like Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
If you’re keen for more female agency or books that poke at the notion of a “woman’s place”, recommend, read and then use our book club guide for City of Girls, Outlawed, and Matrix. Or check out the three books below.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Olga Tokarczuk
Ignore this older lady at your peril.
Janina spends her dark winter days brooding, translating William Blake and keeping an eye on the summer homes of wealthy Warsaw folks. To say that she’s an eccentric would be a vast understatement. She has a beef with the local hunters and a difficult relationship with her neighbor “Big Foot”. When he turns up dead, the local townspeople and police completely ignore her thoughts on the matter. The book is very atmospheric with pitch black humor and a lot of surprises. It won the Nobel…and for good reason.
It’s not About the Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race, Mariam Khan et al
It’s Not About the Burqa picks up on the Punjabi Widow themes of misunderstood religious communities, women’s empowerment and how immigrants get targeted.
In Anglo western culture, the Burqa is one seriously misunderstood piece of cloth. The assumed submissiveness that western culture applies to the women who choose to wear a Burqa, severely diminishes Muslim women’s voices.
This essay collection aims to change that. 17 Muslim women speaking frankly about the hijab and wavering faith, about love and divorce, about feminism, queer identity, sex, and the twin threats of a disapproving community and a racist country.
The book will completely crack open any stereotypes you may have about Muslim women.
The Henna Artist, Alka Joshi
Like Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, The Henna Artist is also a Reese’s pick. The novel picks up on the Punjabi Widows themes of gossipy closed societies and Indian women seeking free agency.
The main character Lakshmi flees an abusive marriage and makes her way to the city of Jaipur. It’s the 50’s, which makes it tricky for Lakshmi to make a living, but she applies her skills as a henna artist and finds work serving some of the wealthy women of the city. She’s doing well, and then her husband re-appears, bearing the little sister that Lakshmi didn’t know she had. The timeframe and setting of the book are fascinating the the writing is lyrical.
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