book club: ‘one day…this will matter’.
by Michael King
Around April, I received an email from the ‘Book of the Month’ club, letting me know a friend had recommended I join. The friend –– her name’s Laura –– was really only looking for an opportunity to get a free book credit, but she is also brilliant, and I knew this would be a great way for me to find texts I might not otherwise think to search for.
My first selection, titled One Day
We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, arrived in the second week of May.
One Day…This Will Matter is a work of creative nonfiction, in which every ‘chapter’ is an essay reflecting on Koul’s life experiences, perspectives on the world, and the people in her life she most loves.
As the title might suggest, Koul isn’t afraid to delve into darker humor, a mischievous grin on her face. The opening line of the very first essay, for example, asserts that ‘only idiots aren’t afraid of flying.’ As she explores these ideas a bit further, however, she often pivots into surprisingly profound territory. The experience of reading One Day…This Will Matter, then, often brilliantly tows the line between hilarious and heartbreaking.
“She yelled at me with such unbelievable bluster, threatened to murder me in such a subtle fashion that ‘no one will know’ or with such flare that ‘everyone will see.’ She’s chased me around the house with a wooden spoon, threatening a whipping if I ran my mouth one more time. None of it led to much of anything. I was never in danger. Nothing bad can happen to you if you’re with your mom. Your mom can stop a bullet from lodging in your heart. She can prop you up when you can’t. Your mom is your blood and bone before your body even knows how to make any.”
The essays in One Day…This Will Matter explore a wide array of topics: Social media. Fear and its role in families. Indian weddings and patriarchy. Drinking in college. Clothing sizes and fashion choices. Uniting all these topics, a common thread woven through every serif, are the author’s distinctive eyes and voice.
The daughter of immigrant parents, an Indian-American woman setting out to work and thrive in a world stacked toward white men, Scaachi Koul’s perspective is honest, unflinching, and –– at times –– uncertain. Her voice rings of profound humanity, melding humor and emotion seamlessly, and it echoes long after the text is put away for the night.
“I became a writer because I read a David Sedaris book at thirteen; every word he wrote crackled in my brain, and he was a guy, sure, a white guy, but I knew he was different in a way that I felt different. Later that year, I read another book by an Indian writer about a first-generation Indian girl trying to date as a teenager, the plot alone blossoming in my heart when I read it. It changes you, when you see someone similar to you, doing the thing you might want to do yourself.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Koul’s family has a large presence in the text, as she shares her experiences with them throughout. When discussing fear, for example, she describes her mother’s anxiety and the way it has echoed into her own. When discussing her own brownness, she reflects on her niece, whose light-skinned appearance makes her Indian heritage a bit more ambiguous. Beside each essay is a short email exchange with her Papa, a glimpse into their communication together, and she also describes his pain at her falling in love with a white man.
Moving through the essays, laughing and also wiping tears, I found myself getting to know the people Koul calls family. These people, a family of immigrants to the United States, are richly fleshed out, both with flaws and heroic quirks. In a time of increasing hostility related to immigrant families, the deep humanity present within Koul’s family members rings decidedly significant.
“Maybe it was foolhardy to think I’d find my brethren here. Fitting is a luxury rarely given to immigrants, or the children of immigrants. We are stuck in emotional purgatory. Home, somehow, is always the last place you left, and never the place you’re in.”
Recently, in looking at all the books I’d amassed over my years of literary adventuring, I realized I hadn’t read many of them in a very long time. As such, I opted to shelve them only until I’d finished them, then passing them onto someone who could use them. One Day…This Will Matter, however, is a rare exception: I will be saving it to be read again, reconsidered, and relived. It touched my heart and mind in ways I did not fully anticipate.
If writing is the act of imprinting meaning onto the world, then Scaachi Koul has written some magic here. Through her explorations of the myriad of topics comprising the world we inhabit, she never shies away from humanity at its most honest: funny, troubling, heartbreaking, and hopeful.