Photo: Reese's Book Club x Hello Sunshine/Instagram
Reese Witherspoon, champion of #TimesUp and #MeToo, co-producer of Big Little Lies and remembered forever for ‘Bend and Snap’ in Legally Blonde, has chosen Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows for her book club this March. This means the 390,000 members of Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine Instagram account will be engaging in cyber discussions about what Reese has described as “a story about liberating women at every age”. Why we’re exceptionally excited: Erotic Stories is written by Singaporean female author Balli Kaur Jaswal.
But you don’t have to be a bibliophile to recognise her name. This full-time writer (who remembers going to a bookshop in a wet market at Ang Mo Kio) has been flying the flag for local authors for years.
Author Balli Kaur Jaswal in her home.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s a quick lowdown.
1. When Erotic Stories clinched a book deal with British publishing giant Harper Collins (the book ignited a bidding war), Balli became the darling of Singapore’s literary scene.
2. Don’t be too quick to dismiss it as a steamy bodice ripper. Protagonist Nikki takes on a creative writing class for elderly women at the local temple in London, but soon finds out that these widows are more interested in telling erotic tales. As the women open up about their lives and their sexuality, Nikki uncovers a more sinister secret about a group of men in the Southall community.
3. Her favourite sexual euphemism in the book? The aubergine. But it’s not just meant to garner laughs – “when the word ‘penis’ is considered taboo in the conservative Punjabi community, [these elderly women] are going to seek out substitutes.” As the women were always in the kitchen, it made sense to use vegetables.
4. Erotic Stories has been optioned by Ridley Scott’s (yes, the one and the same) Scott Free Productions to be made into a movie. They impressed Balli the most when they assured her: “We don’t want this to be a white-based film.”
Photo: Epigram Books/Instagram
5. Despite its intriguing title, Balli doesn’t believe in writing to sensationalise and court attention. “Everything that I’ve written is very much a part of our lives,” she says. “I will always write about marginalised people in some way who want recognition that they exist.”
6. Erotic Stories isn’t the only book that has made international headlines. Inheritance, Balli’s debut novel about black-sheep teenager Amrit who runs away from home and leaving her Punjabi Sikh family to cope with the fallout, put her on The Sydney Morning Herald’s list of Best Young Australian Novelists.
7. After Inheritance, Balli’s next novel Sugarbread was shortlisted for the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize (the richest literary prize in Singapore). Set in 1960s Singapore, Sugarbread’s protagonist is a young girl, whose mother tells her not to grow up to be like her. The only clue that Pin has to this family secret is through the flavours of her mother’s cooking.
A version of this story first appeared in the June 2017 issue of Her World magazine.