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The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal — book review

x510.jpgMy rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

An absorbing start gives way to an increasingly frustrating reiteration of the same arguments which provided little character development.

“Grief came to her like a series of aftershocks—every time she thought she had moved on, something new reminded her of Mum.”

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters started well enough. We are introduced to three sisters who are leading different lives and are not particularly close to one another. There is the serious older sister Rajni (married and with an eighteen year old son), the loud middle sister (whose career as an actress is having more downs than ups), and Shirina the youngest and most subdued of the sisters (who currently lives with her husband and his husband in Australia). The three embark on a pilgrimage-of-sorts after their mother’s death (who in her last letter to them lists the places they should visit during their journey).
The unfriendly dynamics between the sisters are apparent from before they reach India. Resentment, jealousy, and misunderstandings abound. All three sisters happen to have a big secret that they are keeping from the others and from the narrators…however obvious this secret was the narrative would only allude to it in an attempt to create some sort of mystery (which ultimately failed as it built 0 suspense ).
In spite of the tile and front cover (which is lovely) the story delves into serious topics such abortion, sexism, and abuse. The India portrayed by Jaswal is beautiful but dangerous. For instance, although Delhi is a city that bustles with energy and holds many attractions, it is also full of leering men who can quite readily resort to violence. Yet, Jaswal does not let her depiction of India be submerged by darkness and there are instances in which the sisters are assisted and helped by the locals.
Sadly, the sisters frustrated me to no end. They thought the same thoughts throughout the majority of their travels (ex: I can’t tell them; they don’t know how it is; she is careless, she is mean, yadda yadda). Their arguments were tiring and repetitive, which although is realistic, it also made a lot of scenes somewhat redundant as they added little to the characters or their relationships. The sisters were also somewhat stereotypes of certain personalities which never bodes well…
The moments of humour were occasionally jarring or forced. For instance, the characters walk into a laser eye surgery instead of an (view spoiler) clinic. A lot of the jokes stemmed from misunderstandings which made for many unnecessarily goofy scenes. These oddly contrived moments of humour undermined the serious tone of the story. Some of the characters seemed cartoonish (the evil mother-in-law, the spineless husband, the you-don’t-understand 18 year old). And I was vaguely annoyed by the implications that all the sisters are better off by being more ‘chilled’ (for example being okay that your son is marrying a woman 18 years older than him when he himself has just become a ‘legal’ adult…).
<b>The story had few adventures, and the pacing felt rather slow, lagging especially in the middle part. A lot of the things that happen seemed predictable (and avoidable), and soon I grew tired of the sisters.
Still, I might try Jaswal’s future works…

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