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Social Science Essays

One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter


by (author) Scaachi Koul

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Aug 2018
Essays, Feminist, Essays
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2018
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**National Bestseller
**A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
**Globe and Mail Best Book of 2017
**National Post Best Book of 2017
**A CBC Best Book of 2017
**An Amazon Best Book of 2017
**An Amazon Best Humour and Entertainment Book of 2017
**Finalist for the 2018 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
**Finalist for the 2018 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour
From national bestselling cultural observer Scaachi Koul comes a collection of irreverent and funny essays about growing up the daughter of Indian immigrants in Canada,-- "a land of ice and casual racism,"-- addressing sexism, cultural stereotypes and the universal miseries of life.

     In One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi shares her observations, fears and experiences as a woman of colour growing up in Canada. These are stories ranging from shaving her knuckles in grade school, to a shopping trip gone horribly awry, to internet garbage, to parsing the trajectory of fears and anxieties that pressed upon her immigrated parents and bled down a generation. Stories of returning to India where her parents grew up, and ultimately about trying to find her place in the world. 
    With a sharp eye and biting wit, Scaachi explores the absurdity of a life and culture steeped in misery. And through these intimate, wise and laugh-out-loud funny dispatches, a portrait of a bright new literary voice emerges.

About the author


  • Short-listed, Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour
  • Short-listed, Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
  • Nominated, GoodReads Choice Award

Contributor Notes

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, and is a culture writer at BuzzFeed. Her writing has also appeared in The New YorkerThe HairpinThe Globe and MailThe New York Times and JezebelOne Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is her first book. She lives in Toronto.

Excerpt: One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays (by (author) Scaachi Koul)

Inheritance Tax
Only idiots aren’t afraid of flying. Planes are inher­ently unnatural; your body isn’t supposed to be launched into the sky, and few people comprehend the science that keeps them from tumbling into the ocean. Do you know how many planes crash every year? Neither do I, but I know the answer is more than one, WHICH IS ENOUGH.
     My boyfriend finds my fear of flying hilarious at best and deeply frustrating at worst. For my twenty-fourth birthday, he booked us a trip to Southeast Asia for two weeks, the farthest I’ve been from home in more than a decade. Plenty of people take a gap year between high school and university to travel, or spend a summer backpacking through Europe to “find” themselves. (A bullshit statement if ever there was one. Where do you think you’ll be? No one finds anything in France except bread and pretension, and frankly, both of those are in my lap right now.) I never did this. I talked about wanting to, sure, listing all the places I would go one day, hoping to have my photo taken next to a crumbling edifice in Brazil or with a charming street merchant in Laos. When I was thirteen, my mom asked me where I’d get the money to travel and I said, “From you, of course.” She laughed me straight out of her kitchen nook. Travelling tells the world that you’re educated, that you’re willing to take risks, that you have earned your condescension. But do you know what my apartment has that no other place does? All my stuff. All the things that let me dull out the reminders of my human existence, that let me forget that the world is full of dark, impenetrable crags. I have, I think, a healthy fear of dying, and marching forward into the uncharted is almost asking for it. But it was my birthday, and my beautiful idiot boyfriend was offering to take me some­place exciting. He suggested Thailand and Vietnam, because he likes the sun and I like peanut sauces. I agreed, my haunches already breaking out in a very familiar rash.
     As we made our way from Toronto to Chicago, then Chicago to Tokyo, then Tokyo to Bangkok, he was a paragon of serenity. (He’s older than me by more than a decade, and acts it whenever we do something new, largely because, comparatively, almost everything is new to me and nothing is new to him.) He was a latchkey kid, permitted to wander his small town in the ’80s and ’90s in a way that feels nostalgic to him and like the beginning of a documentary about child abduction to me. He smoked and drank and cried and laughed and was freer at twelve than I have ever been. While our plane started to taxi, I squeezed his meaty forearm as if I was tenderizing a ham hock—rubbing his white skin red and twisting his blond arm hair into little knots—and he just gazed dreamily out the window. When we took off, my throat started to close and I wanted to be home, stay home, never leave home.
     I wasn’t raised with a fear of flying. My parents were afraid of plenty of things that would likely never affect us—murderers lurking in our backyard, listeria in our sandwich meat, vegans—but dying on a plane was all too mundane for them. We used to take plenty of trips together and separately, and lengthy air travel played an unavoidable role in their origin story. They emigrated from India in the late 1970s and flew back for visits every few years. For vacations or my dad’s business trips, they flew to St. Thomas and Greece and Montreal and New York. Mom didn’t like bugs and Papa didn’t like small dogs, but I don’t remember either of them being particularly fearful.
     I wasn’t always afraid of flying either. When I travelled with my parents as a kid, air travel was exciting. I got to buy new notebooks and travel games, and flight attend­ants packed cookies and chips and mini cans of ginger ale in airsickness bags and handed them out to the kids mid-flight. 9/11 hadn’t happened, so our family wasn’t yet deemed suspicious at Calgary’s airport. I once loudly asked my brother while standing in a security queue how, exactly, people made bombs out of batteries while waving around a pack of thirty AAs intended for a video game. My parents let me eat a whole Toblerone bar and then I threw up in a translucent gift bag while we waited in line to board. I was alive!
     Flying became a necessity by the time I was seventeen, the only way to stay connected with my family rather than a conduit for mile-high vomiting. When I graduated from high school, instead of doing what so many of my classmates did—a month in Italy here, three months in Austria there—I moved across the country almost immediately to start university. If I wanted to see my parents (and I did, as my homesickness burst wide open the second my parents dropped me off at my residence), I would have to fly. Three, sometimes four times a year, I’d take a four-hour flight to see people who I knew were at least legally obligated to love me.
     But by my early twenties, years into this routine, some­thing shifted and made room for fear to set in. Turbulence wasn’t fun anymore; it didn’t feel like a ride, it felt like the beginning of my early death. I’d start crying during takeoff, sure that the plane would plummet. Flight attendants assumed I was travelling for a funeral and would offer extra orange juice or cranberry cookies to keep me from opening the emergency exit. Before I take off now, I text or email or call anyone I think would be sad about my death and tell them I love them and that the code for my debit card is 3264 and please help yourself to the $6.75 that may or may not still be in there, depending on if I purchased a pre-flight chewy pizza-pretzel, the World’s Saddest Final Meal. My stomach churns and my palms sweat and I think about all the things I should have said and done before this plane nosedives and the army finds parts of my body scattered across the Prairies. My legs in Fort McMurray, my arms in Regina, my anus somewhere in Edmonton.
When you’re a kid, your parents are the bravest people in the world, but my parents’ provenance still feels impossibly brave to me. My father didn’t exactly “tell” my mother he wanted to emigrate from India before they got together. That’s the way she remembers it, that it was only after they got engaged that she found out he had paperwork ready to apply for permanent residency on the other side of the planet. My dad first saw her at his cousin’s house—my mom was her friend—and was flus­tered by her beauty. Ask my dad and he’ll wax poetic about my mother’s cheekbones, her rich eyes, her long hair, how he needed to get to know her. My mom didn’t even know he was there. Years ago, when I asked her about her first impression upon actually seeing my dad, she merely pursed her lips and continued folding towels, saying, “I thought he was okay.” This, the great love affair that spawned me, a woman who would one day get both of her hands stuck in two different salsa jars at the same time.
     My dad asked her father for her hand (and the rest of her, presumably) when she was just eighteen, about to head off to university away from their small town in Kashmir. My grandfather said no, but to try again when she was older. He was a police sergeant, but a gentle guy who rarely raised his voice or grew upset. My mom did not inherit his calmness—he yelled at her once when she was twelve and she felt so wronged that she launched a hunger strike, one that lasted entire hours. He apologized by placing his hat at her feet, begging her to please just eat something. (I did the same at eleven, but my parents just shrugged and said there were bagels in the fridge when I was ready—brown people don’t know what to do with bread.) When Mom was twenty-two, my dad was approved, and they were engaged and married within a year. Another year and some later, they had my brother. Soon after that, my dad moved to Southern Ontario; his family waited months before joining him.
     But before this, there was the big death that marked Papa just after the birth of his first child in India. My brother was small enough to sleep between his paternal grandparents on the flat roof of their home during a mercilessly hot night. My grandmother, in her fifties at the time, woke up and took him inside to change his diaper. When she returned, her husband didn’t wake up: he had died of a massive heart attack in his sleep. Mom says they found him with his hand on his heart. My dad was only thirty. He doesn’t talk about it. We don’t ask.
     My father’s mother, Behenji, lived with us in Calgary when I was young but she hated the cold and didn’t speak any English and I didn’t understand who or what she was. She opted to leave after a few years, something that infuri­ated Papa because wasn’t it his job, as the eldest son, to take care of her? It didn’t matter that she was generally in good health or always prickly or maintained her usual routines, he feared for her constantly. Near the end, she started to get confused and would forget things or people or where she was. Papa would sit in his armchair, clenching his teeth, ruminating on how he’d abandoned her years before. “I’ve asked her to stay put until I come, but who knows,” Papa said to me, two years before she died, as if he could tell her body not to retreat. “If she has to go, I hope she goes in my arms. That will be the culmination of a life. Of a life well lived. A hard life. She had a hard life.” He was on the phone with me at the time, speaking to me mostly in sighs and rueful grunts, a language I’ve since learned to speak myself.
     Behenji lived into her eighties, thirty-odd years after her husband had passed, dying when my dad was already in his mid-sixties. Now, he does long-distance running daily and takes multivitamins the size of horse tranquilizers every morning. He has high blood pressure and high cholesterol and does everything he can to try to reverse what his blood has given him. He says he’s pre-diabetic now, so every morning starts with a spoonful of fenugreek seeds, which I tried just once—they tasted so strongly of death that eating them seemed more like an omen than a cure. After his long runs, he does yoga in his bedroom, flipping over to do headstands next to his dresser. (His headstands are getting weaker the older he gets, though maybe avoid mentioning that if you see him.) Sometimes he recruits my niece to stand on his back, cracking his bones, and he lets out a delighted, “Ahhh-ha-ha-ha-haaa.”
     Mom talks about moving to Canada as though my father had requested she start wearing fun hats. Why not try it? she thought, instead of This fucking lunatic wants me to go to a country made of ice and casual racism. Before I was born, my parents returned from their vacations to their new Canadian home with photos of my mother perched precipitously close to the edge of a cruise ship or drink­ing a flute of bubbles in a dimly lit restaurant. Mom never half-assed things; she had a kind of blind faith that made it easy to follow her. When I was little, too young to know how to swim, Mom took me to swimming pools and would wade into the deep end and let me hang off her shoulders like a baby koala. She rented Sea-Doos in Kelowna and dragged me onto the back of them, driving too fast for my comfort. Mom put her hand flat on a pan to check if it was hot enough (though could never answer my eternal question: What if it’s too hot?). Mom sucked marrow out of a lamb bone with shocking fervour, then stuck her tongue through the hollow to tease me about how truly, deeply gross I found it. Mom made rotis from scratch, kneading the atta with her hands and then dragging a knife across her skin to gather the excess, laughing at seven-year-old me recoiling in horror. Mom’s arthritis got worse but she kept cooking rogan josh so spicy it ripped the roof of your mouth clean off, whipping a wooden spoon around a pressure cooker with her aching wrist. Mom yelled. Mom told you how she felt, when she felt it, as much and as often as she needed to tell you. Mom cried all the time, happy or sad, her tears running a moat around a mole just under her eye, her face like a Shiva Lingam for feelings. And Mom was not afraid of you. When Papa was angry, or afraid, or nervous, or happy, or thrilled, he just seethed quietly because it was all too much to handle. Mom, on the other hand, hugged you with her arms and shoulders and suffocating bosom, burying you in all her soft, cool flesh. That, or she would kill you. These were your options.
     And yet even when my mom was at her bravest, I was gearing up for death. I invented diseases for myself and was sure they’d kill me. By the time I was seven, I started running my fingers up and down my forearm, inspecting my skin and the dark blue veins I could see through my flesh. None of the other girls I knew had visible veins, not like these. My parents didn’t have them, neither did my brother, nor any of my glamorous, tall, busty cousins with their long, sleek hair and full lips and did I mention their massive boobs? It was vein cancer, I decided—noth­ing else could explain the cerulean blue of these veins, how close they were to the surface, how they ran all the way up my arm and would appear and disappear across my flat chest. I never told my parents about it and quietly accepted death as I wrote my “Last Willing Testament” on a pink heart-shaped notepad. (This phase never entirely passed. At a dinner party a few years ago, I was seated next to an emergency room doctor. I stuck my arm under her nose and asked, “What does this look like to you?” She said it was nothing, but speaking as someone who once went to a university with a pre-med program, I’m pretty sure I know a little more than she does.)
     But even my worst dramatics weren’t all that bad. I was still a teenager and prone to typical boundary-pushing. I lied about dates and friends and drinking. I smoked cigarettes and wore poorly applied makeup. I was doing what you’re supposed to do when you’re young and hate­ful, and it was all okay because I was home with my mom. She yelled at me with 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’d chase 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.

Editorial Reviews

"Koul puts on a breezy and fleetingly filthy sideshow, but when she writes about gender and race she reveals that knife-throwing is her main act." —The New York Times

"Toronto journalist and BuzzFeeder Scaachi Koul has carved a niche for herself as a uniquely outspoken critic. As a writer of colour, her collection of essays offers her usual derisive wit and sharp take on a life caught between Western and Indian cultures, not just as a woman, but as someone keenly aware enough to know that the world is an outrage and we're just living in it." —National Post

"Human behaviour is Koul's specialty. Her wide-ranging book of essays touches upon many subjects—sexism, racism, feminism and culture—in a deeply personal and humorous narrative. . . . Koul does this by bringing her vulnerability, honesty and, of course, wry sense of humour to the discussion. She weaves stories, which through their cultural uniqueness and specificity, become universal and applicable to all." —The Globe and Mail 
"At a moment in publishing when writing anchored in the author's personal experience is simultaneously omnipresent and undercooked, Koul sets a forceful standard that other writers should follow, reminding readers that life experience is a compliment to analytical rigor, not a substitute for it. It's too easy for confessional writing to leave the reader feeling a little smug about having a life that's not a wreck and vaguely disappointed not to have stockpiled enough drama for a memoir. Koul is far more engaging company than that—and far more challenging." —The Washington Post
"Koul's irreverent and funny essays explore the binds of being the child of immigrants, shuttling between Canada and India, between love and resentment." —The New York Times Book Review

"At once hilarious and passionate, razor sharp and free flowing, this fearless collection of essays proves why Scaachi Koul's voice will set the agenda for how we talk racial and sexual politics for years to come. A masterful storyteller and a full-time provocateur, Koul challenges, entertains, educates—and along the way has written a gorgeous love letter to her family roots and women everywhere." —Kamal Al-Solaylee, award-winning author of Brown and Intolerable

"Somehow Scaachi Koul manages to be impeccably dry and extravagantly vulnerable at the same time. She makes you feel less alone by being completely herself­—funny (so funny), uncertain, clear-eyed and good. I love her and I love this book." —Lindy West, author of Shrill

"One Day We'll All Be Dead is an absolutely wonderful, impossible-not-to-love book. Whether writing about race or girlhood, the internet or family, Scaachi Koul's writing makes each issue feel fresh and newfound. Hilarious but thoughtful, Koul draws you into her life and makes you never want to leave." —Jessica Valenti, New York Times bestselling author of Sex Object

"You might not be the child of Indian immigrants, you might not be Canadian, and you might not even have an irrational fear of death, but I can guarantee that after reading the hilarious and honest essays in Scaachi Koul's debut collection, you'll agree that One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is the most relatable book you'll read this year." —Bustle

"One Day We'll All Be Dead made me laugh embarrassingly loud on the train while surrounded by snarling, irritated commuters, approximately 1,729 times. And she has so many killer lines that destroyed me. Scaachi Koul is a miracle." —Samantha Irby, author of Meaty
"She's funny, she's outspoken and the popular BuzzFeed writer (and prolific Twitter personality) is now out with this personal essay collection. It's refreshing to have a Canadian voice talking about race and being a woman." —Toronto Star

"Those who follow Koul's work as an editor at BuzzFeed or on Twitter know that she's an all-caps force who doesn't suffer fools or anonymous online trolls gladly. The sly, cutting sarcasm—and the misery—still reverberate through One Day We’ll All Be Dead, but they've been tempered, leaving breathing room for Koul to share more vulnerable observations of her life and her roles as a young woman, a girlfriend, a best pal and a daughter of Indian immigrants." —Metro 
"Koul covers both broad and intimate territory, from her fear of flying to ethnic stereotypes and body image, with the sharp perspective of a perpetual outsider." —FASHION
"Despite her tough topics, Koul's voice snaps with the same wit as her advice column on Hazlitt and her culture commentary on BuzzFeed." —NOW

"You're probably already in love with Scaachi Koul on Twitter, so if you read this book, be warned that you'll likely fall even deeper. Equal parts hilarious and profound, it's simply a must-read." ―Cosmopolitan 

"I want to compare Koul to Nora Ephron and David Sedaris so that you'll buy the book (and because it is that funny), but her deft voice―with its smirking gut punches, its generous exasperation―is unmistakable, or at least will be soon." The Village Voice 

"Looking for a voice-of-their-generation type writer? No pressure or anything, but BuzzFeed writer Scaachi Koul might fit the bill. Drawing comparisons to Mindy Kaling and Roxane Gay, Koul is a voice for outsiders, children of immigrants and just about any other millennial trying to make their way in today's perplexing world with this entertaining and thought-provoking collection of essays. And what a title, right?" —Rolling Stone
"Fierce, funny and unapologetic, Scaachi Koul uses sharp wit and candid humour to confront issues of sexism, racism and stereotypes. . . . One of the most candid and definitive representations of an entire generation." —The Independent (UK)

"Cutting and hilarious, drawing out personal experiences to confront, more broadly, systems of oppression. [Koul] writes with nuance and frankness, adding fresh insight to conversations around immigration—Koul's confronting her cultural ambivalence upon returning to her parents' homeland is especially affecting—and identity. And then, also, it's just super funny. Koul is incisive in her criticism, but doesn't shy away from poking fun at herself." —Buzzfeed

"Simultaneously uproarious and affecting, the personal essays in Buzzfeed contributor Koul's debut explore the nuances of life as a first-generation Canadian with Indian parents, from phobias, guilt trips and grudges to the drama of interracial dating. . . . The specifics of Koul's life are unique, but the overarching theme of inheritance is universal, particularly the vacillation between struggling against becoming one's parents and the begrudging acceptance that their ways might not be so bad. Koul's deft humor is a fringe benefit." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"From quips about rimming a cocktail glass with children's Tylenol or her flair for effortlessly growing a beard rivalling any man's to frank discussions of white privilege, online harassment and her unfortunate familiarity with date rape drugs, One Day We'll All be Dead is alternately light-hearted and heavy hitting, rich with humour that is never without an edge of wisdom and cultural criticism, while simultaneously showing Koul to be as self-conscious, sentimental and sometimes lost and confused as the rest of us." —Quill & Quire

"It sounds heavy, but we promise you'll laugh out loud." —Canadian Living
"One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is funny. In fact, it can be laugh-out-loud funny while still being fearless and thought-provoking." —The Province
"You've got to love a book that kicks off with the line 'Only idiots aren't afraid of flying' and goes on to detail why, exactly, this is the case. Whether she's musing about this or bikini waxes, Indian weddings, growing up as the daughter of immigrants or sharing hilarious emails from her dad, Koul's essays are sharp, hilarious and insightful." —New York Post
"Scaachi Koul's writing has it all—a gut-busting sense of humor, clear-eyed honesty and striking introspection." —Mother Jones
"Koul writes about family, friendship, sex and race with eloquent insight and bracing humor that punch your stomach and pump blood through your heart in equal measure. Koul speaks how she writes—never reluctant to express a candid or unpopular opinion, but always doing so with sincerity and humor." —Esquire
"Koul nails hardballs into the abyss, one essay at a time." Hazlitt 
"Winner of the highly competitive Summer 2017 Author With Whom I'd Most Like To Have Happy Hour award, Koul is a writer for BuzzFeed Canada, making her debut with this collection of thoughtful, funny essays that made me think of Nora Ephron's effortless voice. She writes, with instant-friend intimacy, of her family (her perpetually worrying parents in Calgary, her countless relatives in India), of what it means to be Canadian/Indian, of feminism, of her boyfriend (who's white, older and affectionately referred to as Hamhock) and of how to react when your bikini waxer seems to be having a heart attack." —The Seattle Times
"Settle in to read this and you'll be getting to know a new friend. . . . Scaachi is funny, intelligent and honest." —Hello!
"Beautifully daring. . . . Reading [Koul's] essays is like having that friend you've always wanted; brutally honest—mainly about herself—and fearless in her capacity to be an outspoken and vulnerable human being." —Los Angeles Review of Books
"Koul deftly brings together both . . . the acerbic immediacy of her social-media presence and her observational, analytical prowess as a cultural essayist. . . . [One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter] deals with some complex and often heartbreaking topics. But make no mistake: this book is also furiously funny." —Winnipeg Free Press

"It's so refreshing to hear a woman of color speak out candidly about her experiences as a writer and feminist who has a strong online presence. Her dark humor is as entertaining as it is relevant. . . . A must-read for anyone who wants to laugh and learn more about how our generation is bridging the gap between our parents' culture and our millennial ways." —Popsugar
"Well-written, somewhat alien, snot-blowingly funny and occasionally wise. . . . [Koul] writes with assured sass and maturity." —Library Journal 
"Featuring Twitter trolls, knuckle hair and more, [Koul's] debut book is a winning combination of funny and thoughtful." —CBC Books

"Anyone who is familiar with Koul's writing knows she is intelligent, funny and razor sharp—and her new book is all of these things. Koul tackles serious issues such as racism, rape culture and body image with candor and humor." —Chicago Review of Books
"[Koul] has an irreverent, hilarious and searing view on life. . . . From her experiences as the child of Indian immigrant parents in Canada, to the very real realities of being a woman harassed online, her prose is illuminating, smart and a good encapsulation of what it means to be young and female in the early twenty-first century." —Huffington Post