The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters

It took two tries for me to stick with The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters (2019) by Balli Kaur Jaswal–I think I needed the audio version to fully get into it. although Jaswal’s third novel–2017’s Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows–was an instant favorite.

Unlikely Adventures opens with an ill Punjabi-Sikh mother of adult daughters, all living in the UK, deciding to write a letter to them asking them to go on a pilgrimage to India to scatter her ashes after her imminent death. The sisters have not gotten along well in a while–the oldest is Rajni, a school principal and stickler for order; the middle daugther, Jezmeen, is an aspiring actress with a chaotic life; and the youngest, Shirina, has recently gotten married through an “arranged marriage” website and has moved to Australia to live with her husband and mother in law.

Each sister has at least one secret, although we don’t find out what each one is until well into the book, and none of the family really dealt with their grief over their father’s sudden death when Rajni was a teenager. Their mother has left detailed instructions about what they should do each day and how they should get along together. Getting along proves as hard as expected, since Rajni can’t help but be the boss and Jezmeen the comedian, while Shirina doesn’t seem to have the energy to be the peacemaker.

For a book that had a serious premise, I laughed a lot–they come upon a driver named Tom Hanks–and some of the situations were so absurd that I could only laugh. The relationships between the sisters were true, in my opinion as one of a three-sister trinity. No matter how far away from one another or how long between good talks, the sisters had each others’ backs, which was necessary while visiting India as women on their own and when one sister was on the verge of making a life-altering decision without the others.

There was quite a bit of description of how Shirina had gained weight since they last saw her, and Jezmeen, as an actress, was constantly thinking about her looks. Once, the sisters were taken aback when Shirina ordered and ate two ice creams, which I gather that the author described as a device to explain Shirina’s weight gain, but which perpetuates anti-fat bias. There were no positive descriptions of fat characters, so I have to consider it anti-fat. If you can tolerate that, I did enjoy it as an example of multicultural women’s fiction that deals with some difficult subjects.

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