The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Read: 11 - 20 June 2020
Release year: 2019
This book was my Rare Birds Book Club choice for July. The Rare Birds Book Club gives you a choice between two books every month. You do not know exactly which books they are, but you can choose from two book descriptions. All of the books are written by female authors and feature women as the protagonist(s). At the end of the month, you can discuss the book with the other members on their website.
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is about three sisters of Indian heritage, who are send on a trip to India as a last wish by their dying mother. Their mother wants them to do a pilgrimage in her honour and to scatter her ashes in India. As the girls are not very close and all have their own problems to deal with, they are not really looking forward to this. The sisters grew up in Britain and only the eldest sister, Rajni, has been to India before which wasn't the best experience. The story is told by all three sisters, also including events happening in the past.
The oldest sister, Rajni, is married and has an eighteen-year-old son. At the start of the book we find out that her son is in a relationship with a woman twice his age and that they are expecting a child. Rajni is horrified by the news as she always imagined her son to go to college and have a normal life. Rajni is the only one of the three sister to remember life when their father was still alive and how their mother struggled after the sudden death of their father. As a teenager, Rajni went to India with her mother to try to claim and sell a piece of land which they should have inherited after the father's death, but the trip does not end as they might have hoped. During the present trip to India, Rajni is trying to follow her mothers instructions for the trip, but she finds it difficult to keep her two younger sisters in check.
Jezmeen is the middle sister and is portrayed as the one who gets into trouble all the time. Jezmeen is an aspiring actress, but is involved in somewhat of a scandal at the beginning of the story, just when she was starting to gain some success. She is filmed during a fight with her boyfriend in a restaurant, where she accidentally is the cause of the death of an expensive, rare fish. This video ends up on the internet and her short career seems to have come to an end already. On the trip to India she also manages to get into trouble. After spontaneously participating in a women's march, she ends up being arrested and thrown into jail for a day.
Shirina is the youngest sister and has recently moved to Australia for an arranged marriage into an Indian family. Shirina's very controlling mother-in-law lives with them and decides how Shirina should cook, clean, dress and behave as a wife to her son. When Shirina falls pregnant with her first child, the most important thing to her husband and mother-in-law is that the child will be a boy. Obviously, following the rules of a book, the unborn child turns out to be a girl. Shirina is emotionally blackmailed into getting an illegal sex-selective abortion while being on the trip in India.
As the three sisters aren't that close, they don't talk about their problems with each other and they all think they are the only one with a secret. They keep bickering throughout the entire trip and I don't really like the characters in the beginning. For me, Shirina's story saved this book for me, as I wasn't that interested in the problems of Rajni and Jezmeen. I find it important that a book has an impact on me, that it leaves me thinking about it so that I can learn something from it. In this case it was definitely the issue of sex-selective abortions. I was so heartbroken to read about this in the book that it made me research this topic a little bit. I stumbled on a study which revealed that sex-selective abortion has killed 22.5 million female fetuses in India (10.6) and China (11.9). Can you even believe that?
One of the other things that I liked about this book was that I learned a lot about India and its culture. I have never visited India before, so I didn't knew a lot about the country before reading this book. The author is very descriptive in her writing which made me travel to India a little bit in my mind. She wasn't just talking about the environments, but also about the food, the clothing and the culture overall. Because the sisters were on a pilgrimage, I learned a lot about Sikhism as well. Overall I liked the book because of the education I got from it, but the stories of Rajni and Jezmeen weren't that interesting to me.
There's no greater show of love and faith than travelling a long distance for somebody.