FILL YOUR BOOKSHELVES WITH SISTERHOOD: Book Club Review of Mira Sethi’s Are You Enjoying?
In July, thanks to a recommendation of one of our Book Club members, the Australian South Asian Centre’s (ASAC) Book Club read Mira Sethi’s Are You Enjoying, a collection of seven short stories about life, love, intimacy and intrigue in contemporary, urban Pakistan. According to Sana Goyal of Tilted Axis Press, ‘Here, Pakistan is not a set of binaries seen under western eyes; it holds its own place in the world.’
Are You Enjoying? is the first book by the Pakistani actress, model and former book editor for the Wall Street Journal. In a recent Vogue essay, Mira described the collection as being about ‘the comedy and heartache of lives lived in the intense in-between’ and reflected how this global pandemic has created a series of in-between experiences through the constant displacement of the familiar.
The collection deftly challenges conventional norms about identity, sexuality, compassion, religion, family and cultural lifestyle in Pakistan, and her elegant and often humorous tone helps balance these inherently heavy themes.
Mira stated in a recent interview that she wanted to contribute stories ‘bursting with contradiction and meaning’ as opposed to ‘single-note stories’ about Pakistan centred on religion and extremism. Though the book disengages from traditional South Asian narratives typically depicted in Western literature, our members observed that the stories predominantly showcased characters of privileged and affluent circumstances, and didn’t offer as much insight into the lives of ordinary people. While some readers may be satisfied with reading storied based on the affluent, our members had hoped for a more nuanced and realistic portrayal of life in Pakistan.
Book Club Discussions
From our Book Club discussions, we learned that our members’ had wished that certain themes had been explored more deeply, particularly the imbalanced workplace dynamics in ‘Breezy Blessings’; though it’s also acknowledged that this format is defined by its brevity.
The story highlighted the disparity in the power dynamic between an aspiring actress and a director, subtly hinting at prevalent film industry issues that marginalises disadvantaged women and exploits their vulnerability before the story abruptly ends. While some of our members felt confused and dazed by this ending, others agreed that the ending offered a greater impact by leaving things unsaid, allowing readers’ imaginations to trace the trajectory to its expected conclusion.
As we noticed common threads in many of the stories in this collection were variations of power struggles, we were curious to know what our members’ thoughts on this topic were. We asked them if they could reverse one power dynamic in their life, what would it be? One member launched into a discussion about the power imbalance between fresh graduate associates and senior employees in the workplace, which united our members, despite being located in different parts of the world.
This led to a powerful conversation about issues women, particularly women of colour face in the workplace and how our identities are sometimes used against us in professional environments; and further contribute to feelings of professional isolation and alienation.
While there is increased public and media awareness about the global underrepresentation of women of colour in all aspects of public and professional life, our lack of presence and visibility in these places is a current issue that’s yet to be resolved.
What can we do?
We at ASAC, understand that the content and media we consume plays a significant part in how we see the world, form opinions and our understanding of other people, cultures and key issues. We’ve found that a great way to stay informed and access intersectional perspectives is by diversifying our bookshelves.
In order to create change within our own community, ASAC launched its own book club in the hopes of uplifting South-Asian female authors as we noticed a glaring lack of representation of our presence in literature. This is why Mira Sethi’s Are You Enjoying? is one of the books we wanted to read, discuss and amplify as part of ASAC’s Book Club.