I know what you’re wondering and I’ll answer that question first. Yes, there are erotic stories peppered throughout this book. The stories are beautiful and well-written and I would read a whole collection of them if Balli Kaur Jaswal chose to write one. However, there is so much more to this book. There is mystery, romance, tragedy, and the underlying clash of “death before dishonor” India versus the modern Brit Indian who has embraced Western culture and chooses to leave the old ways behind.
This book reads like the best of Maeve Binchy but with Indian voices instead of Irish. Our main character, Nikki, lives in London and is the daughter of Indian immigrants who are fairly progressive in comparison to other families in her community. Nikki applies for and is hired to teach a class on creative writing. Her students, however, show up to be taught how to write. Period. As in how to read and write and learn the Punjabi alphabet which they only speak. Forget about the English language. The group is mostly illiterate and widowed and were recruited by Nikki’s boss to fill seats in the class to make numbers look good. Nikki tries to make the best of the situation and by happenstance, the widows and Nikki decide that they can spend class time to tell erotic stories as a means of creativity and one classmate who can read and write will transcribe them. So begins our tale.
The erotic stories slip out into the community, attracting unwanted attention. The class also makes Nikki aware of the tragic death of a young woman in the community. The scandals interweave, and the community becomes torn between the traditional role of women in the Indian community and the desire for a more important voice as agents of influence on their own lives and destinies.
If you like family stories, this certainly falls into that category as well. Nikki and her sister have very different views on romantic relationships, and there are the universal conflicts any cultural group struggles with for children trying to please parents, and parents projecting their hopes and dreams on their children. There are funny moments, too, plus the subplot involving the tragic death of a young, modern Indian woman that nobody wants to discuss.
It’s a good book, both entertaining and thought-provoking. I listened to the audio and it gives you a real flair for the accents and immerses you in the story in a way I’m not sure I would have gotten from just reading it. However you prefer your stories, put this one on your list!