I was really excited and fortunate to be offered this book to read by the publishers because I’d read and reviewed this author’s last book, “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” when it came out. I thought because of the number of non-fiction books I’ve got to review I was at risk of missing the publication date of 13 June, but actually this turned out to be the completely perfect book to read on my travels to and from and rest periods around my marathon this last weekend. An intelligent page-turner with great characters and an author with good technical writing skills made this book a must-read, and I sat and devoured the last few chapters when I got home!

Balli Kaur Jaswal – “The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters”

(21 May 2019)

Like the author’s last book, this novel is set in the second-generation South Asian community in London, but now moving further afield to explore their roots. Fresh, funny and moving, you’ll get to know some great and diverse characters in this fantastic read.

We open with Sita Kaur Shergill, dying in hospital, overhearing a woman dictating a letter to her children to read after she’s passed away, and getting an idea which will finally pull her three daughters together into one unit (maybe). Rajni, the eldest, has always been the good girl (or has she?), a second mother to submissive Shirina and overdramatic Jezmeen. Now she’s facing a family bombshell, while Shirina is suffering in the  marriage she arranged online, and Jezmeen has just lost her job for accidentally attacking an exotic fish (yes, really, no gratuitous violence, though). The sisters were never close, and now they’re separated by time, place and events, until Sita’s final wishes force them to do a pilgrimage together through India to various important locations for Sikhism.

While Sita’s single motherhood then cancer diagnosis moved her towards religion and ritual, the three girls are more sceptical. Each has their own worries and they revert very quickly back to their old relationships, as adult siblings so often do. The two who are married have whispered phone conversations with their husbands, and Shirina appears to be holding something back.

Jaswal is also holding something back and she does this very skilfully, taking the book up a level from the chick-litty read the above might imply. We know something’s happened at Sita’s deathbead early on, and we also know something happened when she and Rajni went to India last, but these events are only revealed very slowly to the reader and/or whichever sister isn’t party to whichever pieces of information. It’s cleverly done and leaves you wanting to read on, but everything comes together convincingly and without annoying plot holes. As the book moves forward, we have a few flashbacks and understand everything, and then the epilogue is very satisfying.

The book doesn’t hesitate to cover serious issues – rape culture in India, protests, #MeToo as it applies to South Asia, infertility, arranged marriages and multi-generational living, children defying their parents AND bad grammar (the last leads to a hilarious and heart-warming scene near the end of the novel which I absolutely loved). Both white Europeans and those of Asian origin finding themselves in India are gently skewered but there’s nothing mean about the book, which is very warm and often very funny, too.

A great read which is for you if you like reading about families and siblings, about moving continents and finding your home, and about support and togetherness when things get tough.

Thank you to HarperCollins for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.