By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows: A Novel
By Balli Kaur Jaswal
William Morrow, 2017
As the daughter of Indian immigrants, Nikki’s life is in cosmopolitan West London, where she’s a bartender at a local pub. She has spent most of her life distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her upbringing, as she prefers to be more independent (or Western). But when she learns her father’s death has left the family facing financial hardship, Nikki takes a job at the Punjabi community center teaching creative writing.
But instead of teaching short-story writing, Nikki finds herself at the head of a class of Sikh widows expecting to learn basic English literacy. Nikki is at a loss about what to do, but then one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories and shares it with the class. And as the women share stories and experiences, Nikki realizes there is more to these seemingly proper aunties and she could learn a few things from them.
And just as there is more to these women than meets the eye, there is also more to the community than meets the eye as the widows’ gossip reveals insight into the death of a young wife — a modern woman like Nikki. As the story unfolds, we learn that everyone has their secrets and despite their differences on the surface, they actually have more in common with each other than they realized.
The book is told from various characters’ perspectives, giving readers a window into a tightly knit community in which everyone knows everyone else. Jaswal does a great job of interweaving each of their stories, which will have readers guessing how one connects to another — especially as the mystery of what really happened to the young wife begins to unfold.
Jaswal’s handling of the mystery stays true to the rest of “Stories” as there is more to the woman’s death, and she will have readers guessing until the very end.
A Morning with Grandpa
Written by Sylvia Liu, Illustrated by Christina Forshay
Lee & Low Books, 2016
Mei Mei loves spending time with her grandpa. So when she sees Gong Gong practicing tai chi in the garden, she is eager to learn and practice alongside him. But as her grandfather tries to teach her the slow, graceful movements of tai chi, Mei Mei can’t help but do them with her own flair.
Then Mei Mei returns the favor and tries to teach Gong Gong some of the yoga moves she learned in school. As Mei Mei demonstrates the different poses, Gong Gong worries that he is not stretchy or bendy enough to execute them. But just as Mei Mei put her own stamp on the tai chi movements he taught her, Gong Gong does his best to replicate the poses his granddaughter teaches him.
“Morning” is a fun story that highlights how you can always learn something from everyone — no matter the age. It sends readers the message to keep an open mind, as you never know what someone might teach you.
There are many stories for readers of all ages highlighting various relationships between people. Liu’s story highlights that special bond between grandparent and grandchild. In addition, we see how they grow together, as Mei Mei and Gong Gong learn new things together.
In addition to the fun story, “Morning” is filled with fun and colorful illustrations as we see Mei Mei and Gong Gong performing the different movements and poses in tai chi and yoga. These illustrations, as well as a guide in the back of the book, will have readers wanting to try some of the movements and poses themselves.
Confucius: Great Teacher of China
Lee & Low Books, 2018
From philosophers to (falsely stated) fortune cookies, Confucius’ sayings are repeated worldwide. His teachings set the course for Chinese society for 2,500 years.
But who was Confucius? To many, he is just someone we hear quoted from time to time. But before he became just a name, he was a person.
In “Confucius,” author and illustrator Demi shares the story of the man behind the name in a biography for readers of all ages. Readers will see a bit of the legend circling around Confucius’ birth, how he grew up loving books and learning, and how the suffering and warfare in China during his life — which spanned from 551 BCE to 479 BCE — led him to his work on reforming society and government. Some of his ideas and values included living a moral life and emphasizing the value of compassion. It’s hard to imagine anything being preserved for some 3,000 years, but Confucius’ ideas still resonate today, including his Golden Mean, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself,” which Confucius declared 500 years before Jesus Christ’s Golden Rule.
Before reading this story, I did not know much about Confucius, beyond the fact that he was Chinese and that his teachings influenced Chinese society greatly. Demi’s book gives readers a glimpse into who he was and how he came to be. The story serves as a great introduction that can serve as a jumping off point for readers to learn more about the teacher, philosopher, and politician.
In addition to the story, “Confucius” features illustrations by Demi that help highlight key moments in the multi-faceted man’s life. The colorful drawings in their simplicity help readers imagine what life was like in China thousands of years ago.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.