In Jaswal’s second novel (Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, 2017), three British-born Punjabi sisters must come together to carry out their mother’s final wishes.
Matriarch Sita Shergill’s cancer diagnosis has kept her from returning to Punjab to complete a pilgrimage of Sikh holy sites, so she writes a letter to her estranged daughters commanding them to fulfill the journey after her death to spread her ashes. Rajni, the eldest by more than a decade, organizes the trip. As the firstborn, she’s the drill sergeant. Jezmeen, the middle child, is the rebellious drama queen, literally an actor, or at least an aspiring one, and Shirina, the baby of the family, is the peacekeeper who’s so weary of this role that she’s left the others behind in London and moved to Melbourne to be with her wealthy husband and his mother. The author draws out the distinctions among the sisters’ personalities rather convincingly without making any of them too one-note. The women are complex but also wholly recognizable in their differing perspectives. Each of Sita’s daughters has a trial she’s holding back from her sisters, and while the author has a few secrets she’s keeping herself, she doesn’t play coy. This road-trip story is suspenseful without making the reader feel manipulated. The author has a knack for efficient yet affecting summary and swift-moving scenes, which together make the sisters’ past dynamics and present relationships feel wonderfully rich. Jaswal handles myriad familiar themes related to the complicated experiences of womanhood, immigration, and grief with a fresh voice and mostly seamless prose.
This women-driven story explores family relationships and histories with grace, humor, and warmth.