Who among us would ever have thought that Reese Witherspoon would end up being one of the most supportive voices in the world of women authors? It turns out that now I’ve read three of her picks, and ended up really impressed with two of them. Well done, Reese.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows was her pick for March, and it really wasn’t on my radar until leedock reviewed it last week, but after reading that, I went out and got it the same day. I read this in two sittings, and honestly, could not put it down.
I didn’t just want to know what was going to happen, I NEEDED TO KNOW.
Nikki is a young sikh girl living on her own in London, much to her mother’s annoyance. Her parents raised her fairly modernly, much different than the majority of young Punjabi women living in the UK, who would never have the opportunity to live in an apartment or have a job of their choosing. Nikki dropped out of law school and is working in a pub, still trying to figure out just what she wants to do with her life.
Her sister, Mindi, is slightly more traditional. She is considering an arranged marriage, and wants Nikki to help her put up her personal ad at the Sikh temple in Southall, which is an enormous Punjabi community just outside of London. Nikki doesn’t agree with her sister’s decision, but decides to help her, and she heads off to the temple to post the notice.
When she gets there, she sees an ad for a writing instructor to teach a writing course for the women in the community. The ad says that the women will be encouraged to write stories which will then be collected and hopefully published. Nikki thinks this sounds like a fun thing to put on her resume, and applies for the job.
Her first night of class, however, she realizes she has been deceived, and that none of the women in class — all widows — even know how to write. They are more or less completely illiterate. And the widows aren’t interested in learning their ABCs. They want to tell stories and have them written down. And they want to tell stories about sex and pleasure. Just because they are widows doesn’t mean they don’t have needs and desires.
This classroom is the only place in their lives where they can speak honestly and be heard. It is a revelation for them to be able to tell these stories, and a revelation for Nikki when she realizes that they’ve never felt so free.
Their stories are fun and alive, and it teaches the reader a lot about the particulars of the Sikh community, and the restrictions that still exist for women. Nikki ends up learning a lot about tradition and appreciating so much of what she took for granted while she was growing up. She also makes many unlikely friends, who ultimately save Nikki’s life
The book also has a sub plot about a young woman in the community who recently died under mysterious circumstances, and the lengths that some people in the neighborhood went to in order to cover up the details.
I enjoyed both halves of the book immensely. I’ll continue to turn to Reese for book suggestions, and hope that she keeps finding amazing female authors.