Scaachi Koul will be at the Ottawa International Writers Fest on Thursday April 27 to talk about her new book, a collection of essays titled One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.
Toronto-based Koul is a senior writer at Buzzfeed, a culture critic whose articles have also appeared in The New Yorker, The Globe and Mail, and more. The essays in her debut book are funny, sharp, and honest, deftly put together and covering everything from her childhood growing up as the daughter of Indian immigrants in Calgary, to her feelings about the Internet and digital connections, her struggles with body image and racialized beauty standards, and her insightful commentary on sexism and sexual assault.
Throughout it all, Koul’s wry and witty voice holds all the disparate themes together, making each section feel intimately personal and uniquely part of her own life story.
In a bold visual, the words on the cover of the book are partly crossed out in thick black strokes, leaving another, opposite phrase behind: One Day This Will Matter. The dual-message is a good introduction to the contents within – a delicate balance of the dark humour she uses during existential crises about mortality and the vulnerability required to lay herself bare as Koul works through contemplations of her own identity and key events in her life.
“I think, generally, closure is overrated,” Koul said, in a phone interview with Apt613. “As far as I’m concerned, (the book) is more about processing and understanding than it is about getting over something, ‘cause I don’t think I have the temperament to get over stuff really.”
Koul explained that she spent two years working on the book and chose to keep the contents private from her friends and family while she was writing about them. She just strove to be honest in what she wrote.
“There’s a big difference between the truth and honesty,” Koul said, acknowledging that other people might have different perspectives, but her versions of events in the book were as honest as she could provide from her own view.
Her essays go into intimate detail about her fears of her loved ones dying, her friendships and painful falling outs, and her relationships with her parents. She details various conflicts and clashes with her mother and her father as she tries to define her independence, but even while expressing teeth-gnashing frustration with them, her immense love for both shines through, one of the strongest threads of the book.
Throughout the different stories, Koul also frequently grapples with finding a sense of identity between her family roots in India and her upbringing in Canada. It’s a deeply moving look at the complexities of immigrant experiences and although it’s tightly focused on her own family history, the subject can’t help but resonate strongly at the moment, with recent rises in anti-immigration rhetoric and policies in North America and Europe.
“I was working on the book before Trump was running, so I wasn’t even thinking about that,” Koul said. “But… the shift in politics and the way we talk about it with pop culture – that isn’t because of recent events. All of the very blatant racism and the immigrant anxiety and the sexism and the abuses that you’re hearing about now, they’re not new, they’re just louder. And it’s given a lot of people permission to be worse than maybe what we thought they were.”
“No one becomes a racist when they’re 30,” she added. “It’s not like it’s new for any of them, they just feel a little more entitled to it. So I don’t think about that too much, ‘cause there’s really nothing I can do.”
I feel like the collection is valid and honest and uncomfortable and I don’t think I pulled any punches with it, and I don’t think I get a pass in some of these stories.
One of the stand-out essays in the book is “Hunting Season,” in which Koul discusses the idea of “surveillance culture” and how it contributes to sexual assault. She reframes how to look at sexual assaults that occur when women are drunk by examining how bar culture makes it acceptable for men to buy drinks for women with the express purpose of getting them to too drunk to be able to properly consent to sex – how men are usually “surveying” women long before assault occurs.
“Generally speaking, women have been pretty receptive to (this essay), because it maybe isolated or explained a phenomenon that otherwise was really routine,” Koul said.
“A lot of men have been really angry with me, because they think that it’s me painting all men as rapists, which is a stupid argument and not one that I really engage with,” she added. “But if you’re a dude and you can’t grasp – if you’re a male and you don’t notice that you only talk to women to buy them drinks and get them drunker, that’s between you and your god. I don’t know how you couldn’t at some point notice (…) that there’s a maybe a reason you’re doing that.”
Other powerful essays in the book explore topics such as online harassment (“Mute”) the effects of university drinking culture on friendships (“A Good Egg”), and her parents’ nostalgia for the homes where they grew up (“Tawi River, Elbow River”), to select a few.
“I feel like the collection is valid and honest and uncomfortable and I don’t think I pulled any punches with it, and I don’t think I get a pass in some of these stories,” Koul said.
“If you’re going to write about yourself, (if) you’re going to do memoir or you’re going to do personal essay, you have to be an asshole some of the time. You can’t just write a collection about how everyone has wronged you, because no one wants to read that.”
So, what should people expect from her talk at Writers Fest?
“A lot of cursing.” She laughed. “Some gentle ribbing of the audience, and hopefully an interesting discussion about loneliness and identity. But mostly cursing.”
Scaachi Koul’s event will take place at 8pm on Thursday April 27 at Christ Church Cathedral on Sparks Street. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online.