Scaachi Koul’s debut essay collection, One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter, is funny, biting, warm, insightful, and curious. It was an utter delight to listen to on audio, a perfect blend of humor and depth. Despite dealing with serious issues, the overall tone is mostly light and jubilant. And though humor runs through every essay, Koul is also a smart cultural critic; her words are never empty, never just funny for the sake of humor. She’s got something to say, something vital, about life as a woman of color in a mostly white country, about working as a woman in media, about being a child of immigrants, about gender roles and expectations across culture and continent. It takes skill to write with humor and beauty, to speak eloquently about racism and sexism while also telling hilarious and heartwarming stories about your family and intimate relationships. Koul does it all perfectly. These essays were a joy to read.
Family and cultural identity are at the heart of this collection, but Koul examines these themes through myriad angles. Always circling back to her own experiences, she writes about body image and mainstream beauty standards, rape culture, shadism in India, online harassment, cultural expectations surrounding marriage and relationships (in India, in Canada), her own anxieties and those of her parents, interracial dating, family dynamics, diversity in media, white (and light-skinned) privilege. She deftly weaves her personal stories into a larger narrative about race, gender, and family.
I’ve been thinking about this collection for a few days now. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’ve been having trouble coming up with what to write about it, and I think I finally know why: these essays didn’t challenge me. This isn’t a criticism, but I think it’s part of why this book didn’t feel…impactful. Koul writes about experiences that I have never had and never will have, and her perceptive is an important one. I loved her insights into multicultural families, the vastness of the immigrant experience, navigating life as a young woman with deep connections to multiple places and cultures. She’s smart and eloquent and I learned a ton reading her words. But none of these essays shook me to my core, or changed something fundamental about how I see the world.
That’s okay. I love books that challenge me, but it’s just as important to keep reading books by as many different kinds of people as possible, with as many different experiences as possible, even if they’re not challenging. Sometimes I need books to shake me up. Other times I just need books to keep opening me. There is no such thing as “the immigrant experience” so I try to read many, many books that explore immigration from a million angles. I am a white woman, and so I experience the world differently from women of color, who, of course, all experience the world differently from each other. So I try to read many, many books written by diverse women that explore all the different ways race and womanhood intersect.
For me, One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter falls into that category of books that keep opening me. Reading it did not fundamentally alter me, but it was another unique lens through which, for a moment, I got to see the world. This is at the heart of why I read: to look through as many lenses as possible, in the hope that they will help me build a better world.
I can’t recommend the audio enough. Koul reads her work brilliantly. Her humor and warmth come through in her voice. There are also periodic interjections–mostly funny, often wise–from her father, which were a joy to listen to, given that many of the essays are about her father and her family.