You Might Like This Book If You…
- Enjoy reading about the experiences of immigrants and children of immigrants,
- Are enticed by the title… because those erotic stories do not disappoint,
- Love audiobooks read by British narrators, and
- Believe women can be sexy and powerful, traditional and progressive
Nikki is your typical non-traditional child of Indian immigrants: she shocks her parents, works at a bar, and is strongly against arranged marriages. So when her sister asks her to post a traditional matrimonial ad at the Southall Gurudwara, she is not pleased. She finds the furthest corner of the bulletin board to post the ad, and in the process, finds a job posting for a writing coach. The posting describes a class that will help women develop their writing voices and put together an anthology. Passionate about women’s rights, Nikki signs up for the job.
Plot twist, no spoilers: It’s not the class she thought it would be. Kulwinder, the class organizer, soon tells her that she expects this to be an adult literacy class for widows who cannot read or write. She sets strict expectations for how Nikki should conduct her class. Kulwinder allows no room for changes because she herself is under careful scrutiny as the only woman on the Gurudwara board.
Nikki finds herself leading a class of widows, ranging in age from elderly to their 30s, who are not in the least bit interested in learning the alphabet or phonetics. What they are interested in, however, is sharing saucy stories. Under the guise of a literacy class, the women secretly share racy tales that allow them to express the desires that are now prohibited to them as widows. In the process, Nikki begins digging into the mysterious deaths of three young women in the Sikh community, and learns just how threatening the patriarchal system can be.
My only criticism of this book is that it’s an awesome story that I can only recommend to a few people. Let’s just say the erotic stories do not disappoint. I’m always looking for books I can recommend to my students–and this is definitely not one I can use! I would recommend it to wine-and-read book clubs, though.
Beyond the sexy stories, Balli Kaur Jaswal presents a multi-faceted critique of both Indian and Western culture. She explores female desire, the power of language and storytelling, the threat of patriarchy, and the experiences of immigrants and children of immigrants. I especially liked a discussion that the women had about the degree to which Indian culture forbids talk of desire and sensuality–to the point that they didn’t know the proper names of certain titillating body parts. So, they substituted with fruits and vegetables in their stories. Hello, throbbing aubergines.
Kaur Jaswal gives her characters a voice that is denied to them on so many levels–as widows, as women, as immigrants. Their sense of empowerment upon sharing their stories is contagious.
The story of a ragtag bunch of students led by an inspiring and unconventional teacher is one that’s been done so many times. As a teacher, it’s a story I love, no matter how many times I see it. This one stands out because that ragtag bunch challenges the expectations set on them by two different oppressive systems: Indian patriarchy and Western anti-immigration. And it comes with the added bonus of sexy stories told by Indian aunties.