Professor Raj Bhatt is having a terrible week. He’s made an offensive comment to a prospective member of his tennis club, students from his Anthropology class are protesting remarks he made in class, and his son is in trouble at school. Raj has all the credentials to be accepted in elite circles: an Ivy League doctorate, a professorship, and a white wife. He’s also a member of an exclusive tennis club, a place where his wife grew up and a place he and his kids already love. But Raj didn’t grow up with the elite. His grandparents did well in Bombay, but when Raj’s mother and father moved the family to the United States, they had to start over. As an immigrant, he’s aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle slights towards him and other minorities in professional and social circles.
So to be accused of reverse racism on several fronts shakes Raj to the point of collapse. How can he make people see he’s been misunderstood?
It starts with the offensive comment. Raj was merely excited that people of color were being considered for membership and blurts out the worst possible thing. The membership committee is outraged and embarrassed and the prospective black couple, a prominent cardiologist and trauma surgeon, rush out before Raj can apologize.
What’s at the core of this scene and others in Pandya’s debut novel is the bundle of complex issues of racial and religious discrimination, class distinction, feeling inadequate and being an outsider. It’s ironic for Raj because, as an anthropologist, he chose his profession to understand human societies and cultures.
I had done it because I loved the idea of talking to people and trying to understand them, to see how different they were. And perhaps, if I dug far enough into their lives and histories, I could discover how similar they were too,” he says.
I enjoyed this fast-moving and very readable story. Raj’s character is well developed and wonderfully human, a reflection of how complicated prejudices and misconceptions can be. Pandya places these problems in the middle of a contemporary marriage, where pressures to have it all and maintain an image can distort what it means to be happy.
Members Only tackles difficult and modern problems, ones that its characters seem unlikely to entirely resolve. But the story is also full of compassion, forgiveness, hope and several touching scenes. I recommend this book to readers who like stories with realistic characters who make mistakes, but who are good people underneath.
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