Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 27, 2020

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (2017), by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is, despite its silly name, a book with serious intent.  It’s a story of rebirth for women whose lives have been compromised by persisting with the traditional values of their homeland.

The Punjabi widows of the title are not all old, but they are nearly all illiterate and they are expected to dress and behave as if they are in mourning for the rest of their lives.  But they are not in India, they are in London, and so it happens that when their community centre hires a young woman to teach creative writing, they enrol in her class because they think she is offering lessons in literacy.

Nikki has her own troubles.  She’s a law school dropout, struggling to make her mother understand that they do not share the same ambitions.  This relationship is so fraught that she moved out of home to work as a barmaid, barely a week after her father had died.  She’s not getting on well with her sister either, because Mindi has set her sights on a traditional arranged marriage because so far her own attempts to find Mr Right have failed.  Nikki was only at the community centre in the first place because Mindi asked her to post her advert on the community’s notice board.  (Mindi’s not that silly, she knows that if she uses an App, she’ll mostly get approaches from men in India who just want a British visa.)  And in another of those ‘sliding door’ moments, Nikki only approaches Kulwinder about the teaching job to get away from an attentive man who thinks she’s the one who posted the notice on the marriage board.

Narrative tension is maintained by two strands: the mystery of the death of Kulwinder’s daughter Maya, and the potential danger of the ‘morality police’ (called The Brothers) if they find out that, encouraged by Nikki, the widows are actually telling erotic stories instead of having writing lessons.  The ‘erotic’ stories are actually quite mild, but they wear thin after a while and I skipped most of them. The point of including them in the story is to show that the widows do not necessarily grieve for their husbands at all, and that they have fantasies about passionate love affairs despite their status as widows.  This novel gives them a voice, and suggests that there is some hope for a brighter future for them.

Balli Kaur Jaswal was a guest of the recent Perth Writers Festival, and you can hear her in conversation along with Marcus Zusak and Amy Sackville at RN’s Book Show.  Her most recent novel is The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters while previous novels include Inheritance, which was one of the 2014 Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists Awards, (and which I have had on my TBR for ages), and Sugarbread, a finalist for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize and the Singapore Literature Prize.

My thanks to Leanne from our local Golden Triangle Facebook group for recommending this book while we were sharing lemons from the garden!

Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Title: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Cover design by Holly MacDonald
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2017
ISBN: 9780008209896
Source: Bayside Library, collected *phew* the last day before the 2nd lockdown!




  1. I’ll come back and read this later, as my reading group is doing this later this year!


    • My neighbour said that she read it with her book group too, it seems to be a popular choice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hadn’t really heard of it, but a reading group friend heard it in RN. A change of pace perhaps?


        • That must be the interview that I heard. (The link is in the review).


  2. Interesting. I’ll keep my eyes open for it (it’s hardly a title I’ll be able to forget).


    • Exactly the intended effect!

      Liked by 1 person

      • And I’ll pick up a copy from the library later in the week. It’s reserved and waiting for me 😊


        • Oh, envy, it would be so nice to do that. I can’t even return my library books because the chutes are closed…

          Liked by 1 person

          • I did miss it when our library was closed and am so grateful that circumstances have allowed them to reopen in Canberra.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. […] confused idea about what I might like to buy.  I don’t need to tell you about what reviewing Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows has done to my feeds, but at the moment Goodreads is promoting WW1 digger teddy bears and military […]


  4. […] Lisa (ANZLitLovers) also enjoyed this book. […]


  5. […] Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal […]


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