I hope you’ve had a great week. This week I’ve spent the first two days being a lady of leisure shopping and eating out (thank you Rishi!), the next 3 working from home in my new office (feeling very fancy, albeit in my pjs) and then have awoken bright and early this morning to shortly receive a phone call from my lovely friend about 5 minutes after asking if I would like to go to my favourite coffee shop ever for a morning chinwag and food. YAAAS!
So now I’m suitably caffeined up following an ‘obscene’ sized coffee (actual ordering size), I’ve had half a toasted tea cake because I accidentally flung the other half across the room..so clumsy.. and I also managed a lovely vegan maple syrup and pecan cookie which was awesome and which I did manage to fit all in my mouth without dropping any (quelle surprise), I’m back home, it’s raining and I’m writing, hurrah!
So this week is one of my Rare Birds Book Subscription books. I know I’ve said before how amazing this book club is but honestly I feel like i’m their biggest fan right now. Their book selections are always on point, it’s something id not normally pick up myself but find myself loving, and they’re all written by female authors which I love. It feels amazing to be reading amazing new reads but also to be supporting women’s literature.
THE UNLIKELY ADVENTURES OF THE SHERGILL SISTERS, BY BALLI KAUR JASWAL
“A week in India with your sisters- what could go wrong?
British Punjabi sisters Rajni, Jezmeen and Sharina Shergill have never been close but when their mother dies, she has only one request: that they take a pilgrimage across India to carry out her final rites.
While an extended family holiday is the last thing they want, each sister has her own reasons to run away from her life. Rajni feels out of control for the first time; Jezmeen’s career is on the skids after a viral incident; and Sharina’s perfect life is starting to crumble.
As the miles rack up on their jaunt across India, the secrets of the past and present are sure to spill out..”The Unlikely adventures of the Shergill Sisters
When this book arrived through the postbox, I was super excited to see what would unfold. I’ve read a similar book before about a Mother’s dying wish and three sisters following her plan (although I forget which book or author and cannot for the life of me find it), so was quite interested to see how this one would compare. The previous one was set in England and so was pretty standard with spas and countryside scenes; what excited me so much about this one is that it’s set in a country that I’ve never been to but have always wanted to explore. Anything that has a different culture or tradition is of interest to me as I love learning how others live and opening my mind up to explore new ways of thinking. Although I raised an eyebrow at the title (which is fun and lighthearted but i’d say their adventures were expected given they were literally following an itinerary…!) I have to say that this book was a really solid feel good read for me.
The book begins with a letter from Sita the sisters’ mother who is sadly dying of cancer, asking the women to go on a pilgrimage to India that the doctors prevented Sita from doing when she was diagnosed. She has asked that they go to sacred grounds but also to undertake ‘seva’ (Sanskrit for selfless service) to retain humility. The women live separate lives across two continents and this a story of bringing them together to complete the mission on their mother’s behalf.
Thereafter, the story begins with each sister and their current circumstances; each sister seems to be going through something quite troubling in their own lives, which interestingly they try to keep to themselves instead of sharing.
I really enjoyed that through the first few chapters you get a feel that all of our sisters are very different people although all raised in Britain in the same home. Jazmeen with her very modern western life and wishes to be on stage and screen; Rajni with her rather no-nonsense approach to life and Sharina living in Australia, in a very conservative and traditional Sikh marriage.
I liked very much that this gave them very different perspectives on how life should be lived and what was appropriate and what was not – for example Jazmeen’s behaviour and clothing in India (particularly in religious grounds!) and Sharina’s quiet red tape that she seemed to apply to most situations where confrontations or disagreements over tradition were discussed.
I thought it very interesting the dynamic between them, the elder sister Rajni feels very different to her younger sisters in terms of childhood experience and their upbringing. As a younger sister with a sister 7 years older than me, I can quite identify with many of the themes and differences including the parenting situation at home. It does seem odd that children can be brought up by the same parent and have such different experiences but life changes and therefore so does the way two siblings can be brought up. I liked that the author chose to explore this as its not often done so but im sure is something that many people can relate to.
I found the other scenes that the characters went to really interesting and insightful. I really enjoyed the author’s descriptions, I feel like I’ve been around India! This is honestly such a well balanced book. It is written with a lot of humour (Jazmeen’s viral incident is hilarious), which keeps it light and entertaining, but there are so many difficult rights issues raised from the pages.
Assisted Suicide, Rape culture, women’s rights, control, abuse and gender selection abortions are all themes that are explored in this book. Towards the end of the book, an issue is raised (which I’d guessed early on but it wasnt discussed till toward the end), and it really picked the pace up of the book. I was so concerned about the character and the scenario and was flipping through the pages of the book to make sure there was a positive resolve. It really saddens me that this is actually going on in the world and women are forced into doing things to their bodies that they disagree with, to please others.
Thankfully, this book ends well which I liked (whether its realistic or not). It’s what made it a feel good read and I would have been sad if it didn’t. The only real negative from me is that I don’t really feel that Jazmeen developed as a character from the experience as much as she could have done, and although i’m aware that only Rajni really experienced life with their father, I don’t feel that he had much discussion within the book, it is his family that held more weight. I would have thought that the other sisters would have asked Rajni more details on their journey or tried to find more about their heritage.
CAN’T PUT IT DOWN RATING: 4/5
This was a really solid read, easy and flowed well. It raised difficult topics and made me think, and I loved the way the secrets of each sister weaved their way into the story. The dynamics between the sisters are very believable and I truly loved the descriptions of India.
I am very happy that difficult themes were raised; I think it’s important that they are. Although I still want to really explore India, this book has really heeded warning about travelling as women and who we travel with; it’s not something I’d do alone with my best friend anymore, now I understand the dangerous issues within the culture better.
I learnt so much about culture and the difficulties British Punjabi women must face, born within a very western culture but feeling very much belonging to another place that some have perhaps never even been to, along with what is acceptable and expected by family members living in different parts of the world.
My only reasons for knocking off a star is the title, as it doesn’t fit with the narrative, the under development of Jazmeen, and the lack of detail for how Rajni’s situation at home came to be so much better, I would’ve liked more insight into that.
I will now be looking to read the author’s first book ‘Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows’ when I next have space on my TBR!
Where to Buy:
Book Depository: £8.01
WASHED DOWN WITH:
Twinings English Breakfast Tea! What better than a tea from India for a book about India! My mum had ‘acquired’ a load of the individual bags (looked like they’d been sneakily removed in bulk from a hotel to me..) so this has been my drink of choice whilst reading this book! It’s bold and perfect for strong tea drinkers like me.
If you’d like to procure yours more honestly, then you can do so in most good supermarkets or on Twinings website for £3.97 (on sale) for 100 bags.
That’s it from me today, time to get into the F1, grab a cuppa and a bite to eat and then get back into my latest read this afternoon!
Wishing you the best weekend, whatever you’re doing.
Until the next chapter,