Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club Pick
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Balli Kaur Jaswal’s third novel has been met with frenzied excitement. A rich, funny, and at times, truly startling book, it tells the story of a young creative writing teacher called Nikki and the group of Sikh women she assists in unlocking and vocalizing their desires. Woven between the warm moments of self-discovery are haunting depictions of honor killings and violence towards women in a south London community holding darks secrets. We finished the book feeling thoroughly enlightened and entertained.
When Nikki, a 22-year-old modern Punjabi woman, decides to teach a writing workshop for Punjabi widows two days a week in London's Southall area, she goes in with the idea that she will walk the widows through how to write stories and then compile the stories into an anthology at the end of the class. Unfortunately, the widows barely know how to write their own names. But something about the women makes Nikki want to try, and when the class discover a book of erotica meant as a gag gift for Nikki's sister, Mindi, all bets are off, and a sensation is born. Jaswal's charming debut features an engaging protagonist who longs to break free from her more traditional mother's expectations and who is still smarting from her father's death, but it's the portrayal of the women in Nikki's class that is the highlight: these women are considered invisible, but through their writing they can be seen and their desires and dreams can be acknowledged. It's a precious gift to give, and one Nikki comes to take very seriously. Additionally, the mystery of a young girl's death offers an interesting twist at the end. This is a sparkling read, bolstered by a few of the women's stories sprinkled in throughout.
Steamy and needed strength
The book totally took me by surprise. The story was about revolutionary freedom for women, all women and probably all cultures. We need this today.
Different and I love the happy ending.
Love it-interesting, unexpected, mix of styles!
I read it in 3 days - I had to go to work too 🤪 but it was so interesting and unexpected and full of twists.