First the white members of Raj Bhatt’s posh tennis club call him racist. Then his life falls apart. Along the way, he wonders: where does he, a brown man, belong in America?
Raj Bhatt is often unsure of where he belongs. Having moved to America from Bombay as a child, he knew few Indian kids. Now middle-aged, he lives mostly happily in California, with a job at a university. Still, his white wife seems to fit in better than he does at times, especially at their tennis club, a place he’s cautiously come to love.
But it’s there that, in one week, his life unravels. It begins at a meeting for potential new members: Raj thrills to find an African American couple on the list; he dreams of a more diverse club. But in an effort to connect, he makes a racist joke. The committee turns on him, no matter the years of prejudice he’s put up with. And worse still, he soon finds his job is in jeopardy after a group of students report him as a reverse racist, thanks to his alleged “anti-Western bias.”
Heartfelt, humorous, and hard-hitting, Members Only explores what membership and belonging mean, as Raj navigates the complicated space between black and white America.
In Pandya's tense, sly debut novel (after the collection The Blind Writer) a college lecturer faces accusations of racism and anti-American bias in a California suburb over the course of a fateful week. Having immigrated to the U.S. from India as a child, Raj Bhatt has settled into a quiet life with his wife and children; they have a house in a comfortable neighborhood, their children attend a great school, and they belong to a tennis club. Still, Raj continues to feel like an outsider. Things come to a head when Raj tries to connect with a prospective African-American couple at the club. Unfortunately, an effort to put the man at ease about his purported need to work on his tennis game ("Nigga, please," Raj says) has the opposite effect, and it earns him accusations of racism by the club's white members. The next day, he faces another group outraged by his words, this time from right-wing students who organize a protest against him over objections to his credible lectures on the history of American slavery. After a recorded confrontation with them goes viral, Raj begins to reckon with the disharmony in his new life. The taut, heartrending narrative offers deep insight into the ways the characters are shaped by racism. Pandya's sympathetic portrait of Raj's quest for acceptance will resonate with readers.