I can totally buy Reese Witherspoon reading, liking, and recommending this book. It’s a mental image I have no problem with. And a book I have no problem with. I feel like it’s a book you’re about to see everywhere. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a prude and never directly search for the title – I search for the author, or Reese Witherspoon Book Club, or something of the sort. But that’s me.
Anyway, a friend saw this on the RWBC list and suggested it for our bookclub and I managed to squeak into the library list before it really caught fire (yay!) If I’m right, in the next few months you’re going to hear a lot of “Oh my god, did you read!” in hushed excited voices. It’s an easy book – easy to read, easy to like, easy to talk about.
The book is set in London. Our narrator, Nikki, is a twenty-something law school dropout struggling in her relationship with her conservative, traditional Punjabi mother and sister. Doing her sister a favor, she visits the London neighborhood of Southall (which, according to the book, might as well have been dropped in directly from India) she spots an advertisement looking for a teacher for a writing class. Nikki, as the only applicant, gets the job, but discovers she’s not leading a writing workshop, she’s teaching the titular Punjabi widows how to read and write. Well, that’s what she’s meant to do. They like stories, though, and coming up with their own to be transcribed by the one woman who can write. And their stories are rooted in what they miss – or wish they ever had – in their own relationships.
The A and B stories are pretty good! The book delves primarily into what it means to be traditional in a world that’s rapidly changing and how relationships can bridge or divide over these differences. There’s also some really disturbing stuff about gender-based violence and the communities that help hide and enable it. Like super disturbing – not just that it’s being perpetuated, but that the community is suppressing any word of it for fear of greater London thinking “Southall is where they kill their daughters.” One of the primary plots about unearthing the truth in one of these cases, but so much of it comes off feeling kind of sanitized, in a weird way.
Like I said, the A and B plots are fine. Honestly I would have loved to spend more time with the widows, that was where the richest material was. And yes, some of the erotic stories to come into play in the novel, and yeah, I definitely blushed reading them.
It’s a great book club book.