Members Only by Sameer Pandya
Members Only follows Raj, an Indian American professor who is accused of racism twice over one week. When Raj accidentally uses a racial slur while interviewing an African American couple for membership to the prestigious tennis club he belongs to, the other members turn on him and accuse him of racism. As if that’s not bad enough, the next day a student uploads his Anthropology lecture to a popular conservative website and he is accused of having an anti-Western, anti-Christian bias. Both situations quickly escalate, and both Raj’s job and his membership to the tennis club come under fire.
Members Only is a story about one man with a powerful commentary on racism, racial identity, and cancel culture. It takes place over a single week, starting with the tennis club membership on Sunday. It’s told in long chapters, broken up by each day. Raj narrates the story in the first person and it is told largely in the present, with anecdotes where Raj reflects on impactful moments in his life that have shaped his current viewpoint. Though the synopsis and title lead you to believe the story is focused on the tennis club, the bulk of the book is focused on the negative press Raj receives as a professor under a microscope and the overall impact on his psyche.
At first, I found this story challenging but after the first chapter, I felt like I came to get to know Raj, and connected with his story and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found myself sympathizing with Raj and the predicament he finds himself in. If you like contemporary character-driven stories, Members Only is a book for you.
Thank you to Mariner Books and BookishFirst for the review copy. All opinions are my own.