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[Book Review] Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

By A.M. Larks

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal is a humorous and brilliant blend of a novel. Weaving together a murder mystery story, societal critiques, and, of course, erotica, Jaswal manages to deftly walk the line between tragedy and comedy. Voiced mainly by two different British-Indian women, Nikki and Kulwinder, of different generations, Jaswal uses the premise of a literacy class turned erotic story telling time to explore the ideas, philosophies, and attitudes regarding all aspects of the women’s lives within the Indian community.   


It is in this way that Jaswal’s social criticism takes is dizzying variety of forms—men’s views on women: old, young, widowed, unattached; women’s views on women: old, young, widowed, unattached—the effects of the outside world on the Indian diaspora and community, and even family’s views on families (their own and others). Jaswal explores the perspectives and differences in the generations and the various associated journeys to womanhood. Each woman, when introduced as a character in the novel or the stories, brings another shade to the picture of the women of the Southall community, which in turns brings a further depth to the discussion of feminism within the novel.  


Underlying the levity of the classes and the poignancy of the criticisms is the death of Kulwinder’s daughter, and of other young girls within the community. Something feels off about the explanations of the deaths, explanations provided by men.  


It is hard to say that there is one part that stands out in Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, but Jaswal’s inclusion of erotic stories written by widows may just be it. It is a bold and unique platform with which to address female sexuality and the many ideas that society imposes on women, specifically de-sexualization of mothers or elderly women. And as Nikki finally declares, “‘Tell Siraj that my students write erotic stories. They don’t need sex education; they’re well versed in what goes on in the bedroom. They have wisdom which comes from age and experience.’”


Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is a titillating powerhouse for Jaswal’s American debut, standing for the power of the female voice in both theory and practice.  

A.M. Larks’s writing has appeared in NiftyLitScoundrel TimeAssay: A Journal of Nonfiction StudiesFive on the FifthCharge Magazine, and the  ZYZZYVA  and  Ploughshares  blogs. She has served as a judge for the Loud Karma Productions’ Emerging Female and Nonbinary Playwriting Award and has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, CA. She is the managing editor and blog editor at Kelp Journal. She is the former fiction editor at Please See Me, the former blog editor at The Coachella Review, as well as the former photography editor at Kelp Journal. A.M. Larks earned an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside at Palm Desert, a JD, and a BA in English literature.


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