ARC Review: The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal

the unlikely adventures of shergill sisters

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The British-born Punjabi Shergill sisters—Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirnia—were never close and barely got along growing up, and now as adults, have grown even further apart. Rajni, a school principal is a stickler for order. Jezmeen, a thirty-year-old struggling actress, fears her big break may never come. Shirina, the peacemaking “good” sister married into wealth and enjoys a picture-perfect life.
On her deathbed, their mother voices one last wish: that her daughters will make a pilgrimage together to the Golden Temple in Amritsar to carry out her final rites. After a trip to India with her mother long ago, Rajni vowed never to return. But she’s always been a dutiful daughter, and cannot, even now, refuse her mother’s request. Jezmeen has just been publicly fired from her television job, so the trip to India is a welcome break to help her pick up the pieces of her broken career. Shirina’s in-laws are pushing her to make a pivotal decision about her married life; time away will help her decide whether to meekly obey, or to bravely stand up for herself for the first time.
Arriving in India, these sisters will make unexpected discoveries about themselves, their mother, and their lives—and learn the real story behind the trip Rajni took with their Mother long ago—a momentous journey that resulted in Mum never being able to return to India again.

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After reading Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows and really enjoying it, I was so excited to receive the ARC for this one. This book turned out to be quite different from what I was expecting but it was nevertheless, a very interesting read.

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Rajni is the eldest sister, a school principal who likes rules and everything to be in an orderly fashion. However, she was not always like this and things that happened in her past completely changed her attitude and now when things are again uncertain in her life, she is not sure how to handle everything. Jezmeen is a struggling actress who’s just lost her job and gone infamously viral. She also has always been a rebel and resists every attempt by Rajni to follow their pilgrimage schedule and resents her sister for being so strict. Shirina has always tried to be the perfect daughter but felt too invisible in her own home and being scared of any confrontations has left her as the person who always adjusts and makes sure everyone else is happy. I could relate to some parts of each of these sisters and it made the reading experience quite surreal – sometimes nostalgic and sometimes even uncomfortable.

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The writing is as usual very engaging. The author uses the stories of these three sisters to give us a picture of immigrant life in Britain, the clash of cultures between traditional parents and their British born kids and sometimes, even the second generation immigrant kids. Through the trip that the characters take, we see a different view of India too – how the noise and crowds can sometimes feel overwhelming; even after so much development, how the sexism and misogyny is so ingrained that it manifests in everyday little things; how female foeticide in parts of India is still rampant and sometimes, these ideas don’t disappear just because someone has immigrated to a more modern country. The author also manages to give us a nuanced portrait of the relationship between three sisters – who were not close while growing up and even held resentments towards each other, but being in close proximity after the death of their mother forces them to acknowledge their issues and maybe pave the way for a better relationship going forward. It’s also great to see them have each other’s back despite any lingering issues.

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This book is a very interesting portrayal of family dynamics and sisterhood, traditional vs modern thinking and how it affects our everyday life. It’s a very honest picture of three sister’s lives told with drama, humor and mystery which makes for a fascinating read. I would definitely recommend this one if you enjoyed the author’s previous book and are interested in depictions of the myriad of issues that women face in everyday life.

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PS: Thank you to William Morrow and Edelweiss for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are solely mine and unbiased.

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