Second book of the challenge and another new addition to the list, at least it is a Netgalley book so the goal is still being met.
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.
I think like many people I did a bit of a double take on the title of the book, unlike many people I was keen to dive right in, imagining a kind of Calendar Girls type feel, quite a light-hearted and funny story based in the Punjabi community. Actually what I got was a little bit of that element but mostly the story is a complex and gripping look at the difference between the more traditional widows, the “modern” counterpart in Nikki and the expectations that their wider community has of women.
I really enjoyed getting an insight into this community and learning about their different traditions and more about their culture. I especially liked getting to see how differently people adhered to it and when they were able to pick it apart and make fun of it.
The characters were all very interesting, Nikki is the one that we hear the most from but the widows in the writing class were really what drew me in, their imagination and how they tease each other and gossip and how they put Nikki in her place at times.
The contrast between how they appear, traditional women quite demure and conservative and then hearing the very steamy stories they come up with was brilliant and I especially like all the different vegetable names they came up with for certain appendages. Also because some of the characters were involved with the mystery that is Maya I found myself more invested in hearing from them because, like Nikki, I wanted to find out what had happened.
The story was great because it was a mix of a lot of different parts, Nikki trying to help her family whilst retaining her independence, the widows finding a safe place to express themselves, the difficulties of being an immigrant in a foreign city, the clash of two cultures and addressing the violence that can be brought to women. When I lay it all out it feels like it should be too much for one book but actually it works well together, all of these things inform another part of the story so it ends up meshing together perfectly and add a subtle tension that really builds up by the end.
For those of you wondering, yes there are a few erotic stories peppered throughout but it is not overdone, I enjoyed them and thought they were a nice reprieve in the story and I think it gives more of an insight into some of the characters rather than just being a plot device
It also ends with a sense of justice, these women realise their worth and start demanding better for the rest of the women in their community, showing that they can have opinions and still be respectful. It definitely left me with a feeling of hope.
I’m glad that this book turned out to be more than the light-hearted fun that I thought it was going to be, it was very engaging with a lot of relevant themes and I would recommend getting your hands on a copy.