Members Only – 3 Star Review

All this talk of belonging and membership had broken me, just like something else had broken my father, and his father before him.

-Rajesh Bhatt, Members Only by Sameer Pandya
This was an interesting contemporary novel about an Indian man who grew up struggling to find his place in life once his family moved to the US and continues to struggle with finding it as an adult. Our main character, Rajesh (who goes by Raj) is a anthropology professor and belongs to a local tennis club. Raj makes a racist joke in a small meeting in attempts to form a friendship with an interesting black couple interviewing for a slot in their local tennis club. “Members Only” follows Raj throughout the week following his faux pas. To add to his weighing regret and anger, Raj starts getting attacked by his students for being racist towards whites and Christians due to a lecture he gives. He is seemingly getting it from all sides. How does Raj (being Indian) fit in, with anyone?

This book should probably be called “Raj’s Series of Poor Decisions” because I really couldn’t believe some of the things he said and did. Raj is not entirely at fault for some of the accusations or situations that he wound up in but he definitely did not help himself out with how he handled these situations. His inner longing to fit in with his academic and social peers must have clouded his common sense.

I realize as a white person, it’s easy for me to have this perspective. I’ve never had pressure to try and “fit in” in a racial sense the way Raj and his children do. However, some of the situations in this book are pretty straightforward for everyone, regardless of race. You don’t say what Raj said at the tennis club interview. You don’t defend yourself by blowing up at people when confronted with differing opinions (well, obviously some do but that’s not the best tactic). Making yourself the victim using your past experiences doesn’t excuse what you’ve done or said in other similar situations you’ve created. I’m unclear if the author wanted us to feel sympathetic toward Raj or not. For the majority of the book, I did not.

There’s also a section of the book where Raj basically exposes himself in public (goes skinny dipping in the ocean) and nothing ever happened. I expected some fall-out for that, and since there was none I wondered why it was even included in the story. There’s also a minor section where Raj gets a mole removed from his heel and biopsied and then immediately goes swimming in a chlorine pool (that is described as having a murky sheen on the top of it from all the children’s sunscreen) and takes a walk at the beach. Having had many moles removed myself, this is all a big N-O. This is super minor but I feel like if you’re going to include something like this in the story as an author, you should research the entire process of it.

This book definitely opened up my eyes at some cultural differences and I do love reading about stories and situations entirely different from my own. At the end of it all, Raj wasn’t sure he learned anything or how to piece it all together and that was a little disheartening. I didn’t expect him to suddenly find his place in life but to really have learned nothing felt like a waste of the reader’s time.

Thank you to Bookish First and Mariner Books publishers for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Review by Kelly

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