Members Only

Members Only, the first novel by Sameer Pandya (author of the story collection The Blind Writer), is as provocative as it is comedic. In a horribly misguided attempt to bond with the first people of color since his own admission into a suburban Los Angeles tennis club, Raj's well-intended but inexcusable use of a slur sets off what will clearly be the worst week of his life. As a Bombay-born Indian American, Raj was the lone member of color at the Tennis Club. His welcome was indirect--because he's his white wife's brown spouse. Raj currently serves on the membership committee, vetting prospective new couples. He's especially thrilled to meet Bill and Valerie Brown--an African American power couple sponsored by the (white) Blacks.

Their appearance inspires "big, friendly grins," until Bill's modesty about his Stanford tennis days elicits Raj's utterly inappropriate response. Yet as dire as Raj's faux pas is, none of his co-members are willing to acknowledge the ongoing racist incidents Raj regularly faces. From the courts to the classroom, Raj's university teaching career next takes a downturn when a student films parts of Raj's cultural anthropology lecture about the West and Christianity and the clip--misrepresented and out of context--lands on a conservative website. The consequences snowball quickly and, no, that's not all.

Facing social, professional, personal implosion--all in one week--might seem impossibly overdramatic, but Members Only proves remarkably convincing. But without ever eliding the gravity of serious social issues like racism, privilege and power, Pandya deftly manages to create a tragicomedy of errors driven by surprising wit, irreverent humor and razor-sharp insight. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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