A while back I read my first Jaswal novel, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. I seriously loved this book. It was charming, witty, and more than a little bit raunchy. If you’d like to read my detailed thoughts, you can see my review here. I didn’t find this novel quite as enjoyable, but it’s still a very worthwhile read.
The three Shergill sisters – Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirina – have long had an immense gulf between them. On her deathbed, their mother asks of them one thing. She wants them to take a pilgrimage to their homeland of India. They must follow her instructions precisely and make a final journey up the mountain to lay her to rest. Along the way, the sisters will battle each other and their own emotional turmoil as they attempt to fulfill their mother’s final wishes without allowing their own fragile lives to fall apart.
I will admit, this novel started a bit slow for me. I didn’t really like any of the sisters, to be honest. Rajni is infuriatingly severe and stubborn, and more than slightly neurotic. Jezmeen is flippant, silly, and spoiled. Shirina is so meek it comes across as a pathetic kind of weakness. The first third of the book feels like it’s merely the sisters bickering constantly. There is, of course, a purpose for all of this. If there’s one thing Jaswal does well it’s creating a very authentic portrait of life. People are annoying. People are complicated. And most of us are stubborn as hell and completely incapable of reaching across the aisle to understand each other unless we’re forced. And if we don’t know how to communicate, we do it with a vacillating mixture of vociferous argument and pure silence. Basically the first part of this novel is her showing us that this family has some serious healing to do.
Jaswal does a very great job of building suspense. She leaves little hints along the way of things than have come to pass, but she makes us wait before revealing all of it. This is, at once, intriguing and maddening. Ultimately, I like it. It definitely serves its purpose and she has placed herself as one of those authors who knows how to make the mundane aspects of life interesting through adept storytelling. Honestly, when I finally found out what was going on, especially with one of the sisters, it made my blood boil.
I was so wrapped up in the story by the end, I didn’t realize I had actually grown to like and respect these three sisters. All three of them had extremely difficult obstacles in their lives, and the things that made them stand out as irritating or weak were actually those parts of them that proved their resilience. Honestly, life for women can be so difficult. No matter your country of origin or culture, it’s full of socially constructed difficulties that shouldn’t exist and shouldn’t be condoned. Women either respond by bending to the will of the oppressor or risking their own health and safety to defy the oppressor. Either way, there are usually disastrous consequences. Each of the Shergill sisters dealt with different obstacles, but she responded in a completely different way.
Honestly, by the end, I felt like I understood each of them. It’s similar to when you meet a person and you just really don’t click initially. This happens to me a lot, because I’m very socially awkward. If you pair me with a person much like myself, it’s a great big ball of awkwardness and we really don’t know what to say to each other. But after enough time, if we’re able to connect the ways we are alike, something magical happens and those people could become my closest friends. If an author can do this with a character in a mirror of life, that’s an effective narrative. Characters should never be perfect, because perfect is not authentic. They should be effective. They should generate some form of raw emotion in the reader besides either liking or not liking them. We should deeply understand exactly WHY we do or don’t like them. We don’t honestly have to LIKE a character to think they are a good character. Honestly, sometimes it’s more fun if we don’t. I think Jaswal has mastered this in her craft.
As far as pacing goes, I really don’t have any complaints. Yes, I mentioned it started slow, but it started slow for a reason. I actually think we needed to slog through the initial stages that set up the context for the family dynamic. Once this book got going, it forged ahead at the perfect pace. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Soneela Nankani and Deepti Gupta. It was very well done and highly enjoyable, so I recommend this format. It exceeded the average length I usually choose for audiobooks at just over 13 hours, because if I have a longer book I’d rather read it off the page, but I honestly didn’t notice because it was such an engaging read. Overall, I highly recommend this book. It’s mostly light and breezy, but it brings in some very difficult themes, especially toward the end. 4 Stars.
Published April 30, 2019 by harperAudio. ASIN B07NY9TB61. Narrated by Soneela Nankani and Deepti Gupta. Runtme 13hrs 10 mins.