Shelf Control #170: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

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Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

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Title: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Published: 2017
Length: 304 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls.

Every woman has a secret life . . .

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.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a Kindle edition when there was a one-day price drop, about a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

I thought this book sounded completely charming when I first heard of it… and apparently Reese Witherspoon agrees with me, because it ended up as one of her book club selections. I’m always drawn to immigrant stories, and I love the idea of a women’s writing class exploring erotica as a way of expressing themselves and forming a community.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

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Book Review: A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years–not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. Her grandmother has even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be–if her husband would just come and claim her.

Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naive village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life – cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.

A Bollywood Affair is my book group’s selection for February — we do have a tendency to go romance-themed each year at this time, and the results have been decidely mixed for me. I’m not a romance reader, although I do enjoy a good love story every so often. Still, there are elements of the genre that just don’t float my boat, but more on that later…

In A Bollywood Affair, we start with a marriage between two children. Mili, at age 4, is married off to Virat, a much older 12 years old, by arrangement between their grandparents. Apparently, mass weddings between children are traditional in the region of Mili’s birth. And while the two children are immediately separated, they’re expected to eventually live as man and wife once they’re old enough. Meanwhile, Mili’s grandmother raises her to be a perfect wife, and only at Mili’s insistence that her husband would want her to be as educated as city girls is she allowed to attend university and pursue an education.

At age 24, Mili travels to Michigan for graduate work in sociology, aiming to work toward her goal of improving the lives of women in India. She has no money though, and her fellowship leaves her only the barest subsistence to get by on.

Back in India, Virat and his pregnant wife learn that the annulment of his marriage to his child bride was never finalized, and he’s worried that this will interfere with the well-being of his wife and baby. Virat’s younger brother Samir, a playboy heart-throb who is (of course) gorgeous and has (of course) a heart of gold hidden beneath his player, bad boy exterior, is sent to America to get Mili to sign the annulment papers once and for all. And (of course), things get complicated.

Mili is klutzy, innocent, and awkward, and immediately rides a bike into a tree and injures herself in Samir’s presence, so he has no choice but to stay and take care of her, hiding the true reason for his arrival. He’s drawn to her sweetness and beauty; she’s drawn to his kindness and amazing biceps. They open up to each other emotionally, but the secret reason for Samir’s presence looms in the background, ready to ruin the love growing between the two of them.

Mili is a little too naive to be believable, and Samir is too much of the bad-boy-who-is-secretly-good stereotype. Mili clings to her vision of her marriage and the husband who will someday claim her as his wife, even as she works to better the status of women’s rights in India. Samir puts up with an awful lot to be near Mili, and it’s kind of hard to buy his willingness to immediately devote himself to her. Both being gorgeous, amazing in the kitchen, and absolutely fantastic people, they are naturally and immediately drawn to each other, and (we’re told) have a strong chemistry that keeps them both lusting after one another pretty much constantly.

Look, I basically liked the story, but I have issues. First off, please spare me from any book in which the main male character names his penis. Sorry, but no. I do not want to hear Samir refer to “Little Sam”, not once and not repeatedly. I also don’t want to hear about Mili’s “dark crevices”, as in…

Her name rumbled in his chest. She felt the sound rather than heard it and warmth melted through her like molten gold filling a mold at the goldsmith’s. It slid into her heart and into the deep dark crevices of her body.

Did I mention already that I’m not really a romance reader? I’m no prude, but I don’t need every detail of a sexual encounter spelled out for me — body parts and fluids and the rest. The overblown language during the sex scenes just immediately pulled me out (no pun intended) of the mood and made me giggle instead:

She let him jab into her, free her, tangle her. She tasted him, breathed him in. His smoky taste, clean and dark and hot. His tongue, hungry and probing and hot. His heavy shoulders under her fingers, firm and yielding and hot.

Yes. Hot. I get it.

Man, do I sound mean right now, but honestly, this kind of writing just doesn’t work for me.

That said, I actually enjoyed a lot of the story, when the gasping and tasting and “liquid skin” and “sensitive, secret flesh” weren’t getting in the way. I really liked the descriptions of the foods and the clothing and the traditions that we see through Mili and Samir’s experiences, and the backstory about Samir’s childhood is both upsetting and touching. The obligatory secret between the main characters (there wouldn’t be much of a plot without it) makes the drama feel forced at times, but I came to care enough about Mili and Samir as people that I was willing to overlook most of the elements that I didn’t care for.

Would I recommend this book? I’d say it’s a very qualified… maybe. I don’t regret reading it, and I’m looking forward to discussing it with my book group — despite the fact that this isn’t the type of book I’d usually choose to read. Still, if you’re a fan of steamy scenes in the midst of your love stories, you may truly love A Bollywood Affair!

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The details:

Title: A Bollywood Affair
Author: Sonali Dev
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: October 28, 2014
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased

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