Book Review: Members Only by Sameer Pandya

Members Only
Sameer Pandya


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.

Members Only will be released on July 7, 2020. I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is just a brief review of a beloved classic, mostly because I doubt I can add anything new to previous reviews. Today I’m just sharing my personal reaction to a book I loved, and offering encouragement to young readers who are reading it for the first time, probably for school.

I can’t even guess how many people have reviewed and praised this book, but I will tell you that this is another one of the best books ever written. If you have never read To Kill a Mockingbird, go ahead and crack it open. Set in 1935, in the fictional town of Macomb, Alabama, Harper Lee writes of people and family, of prejudice against blacks, of judgment and justice, of lost innocence, and of heroes.

Harper Lee uses the voice of young Scout Finch to tell this story and Scout’s observations, which are sometimes naïve and always smart, to give us an insider’s view into the complicated relationships that exist between blacks and whites, between the poor and the poorer, and between the educated, the illiterate and the ignorant.

Like many other readers, I love Atticus Finch’s character. He’s wise and humble and kind and hides nothing from Scout and her older brother Jem. He treats them as adults and they have a maturity beyond their years because of it.

Besides Atticus, Scout and Jem, there are many characters to like for their wisdom and kindness – Calpurnia, Boo Radley, Miss Maudie Atkinson, for example. There are many to dislike because they are prejudiced or ignorant – Mr. Avery, Mrs. Merriweather, Miss Stephanie Crawford, Aunt Alexandra.  And there is one to hate, Bob Ewell, who accuses a young black man, Tom Robinson, of raping his daughter and whose own hatred towards blacks and most of the town of Macomb takes this story into the courtroom.

Here’s my advice if you’re in high school and you’re reading this for the first time. Take the time to know what’s going on. Use a guide to keep track of the characters. Go back and re-read what you didn’t get the first time. Why? Because once you get the frame of the story in your head, you will start to understand the meaning of Harper Lee’s words and you will discover how invested you’ve become in these characters. Once you reach that point, you will find yourself reacting to them as if they were real people, and you will discover that the events and their actions in this book cross over from fiction to reality. That’s great writing!

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