This one hit my radar when it was put up for vote in my book club. It didn’t make the cut, but when I saw it at the library I snagged it and I’m glad that I did. This is one of the Reese Witherspoon books and the third that I have unwittingly read this year. I knew that she was behind bringing some women centered books to screen, but honestly had no idea that she had a book club going. I am surprised that we have similar tastes.
A young Londoner, Nikki, is reluctantly posting a notice for her sister, who is seeking an arranged marriage, when she sees a listing for a teaching job at a local Sikh temple. Having dropped out of law school, Nikki is looking for something that might elevate her from her bartending job and applies. She quickly learns that the teaching job is not creative writing, but an actual English writing class for widowed Punjabi women, many of whom are illiterate. Out of her element and in an effort to keep the class afloat, Nikki agrees to allow the women to tell stories that one of the younger widows transcribes. As a “modern” girl of immigrant parents, Nikki has struggled against the traditional tenets of the Sikh community and is surprised to discover what lies in the imaginations and longings of these multigenerational women.
As the widows and Nikki strive to keep the nature of the class secret from the woman responsible for setting up the class, the ties that bind several of the women in the community together unravel. The death of a young woman the year before and several others over the years is a thread of mystery that weaves throughout the book. Earlier in my reading, I mistakenly thought that the solution to the mystery was obviously laid out. This hiccup effected my reading of the book for a bit but once I got over myself and realized that everything wasn’t as it appeared, I really enjoyed it. The widows are smart, funny and endlessly entertaining. Their ability to humble Nikki and her ability to encourage them is heart warming.
The book also explores a stifling conservatism within some of the community and the extremes some will go to police what they consider to be appropriate behaviors for the women inside it. The class is not just a way for the women to express themselves. It is an awareness that they are not alone and that they are one voice of many.