Book Review: They Said This Would be Fun by Eternity Martis

They Said This Would Be Fun – Eternity Martis (McClelland & Stewart, 2020)

I received an uncorrected proof of this book. All opinions are my own. It is available for purchase now.

Eternity Martis moves from the large and culturally diverse city of Toronto to attend Western University in London, Ontario. What she finds there is a world she was only dimly aware of previously. It’s a world where her skin makes her stand out, her hair makes her a novelty, and her every action seems constantly monitored. It’s a world where she is judged, fetishized, and assaulted.

Martis is the daughter of a Pakistani mother and a Jamaican father. While she has a complicated and distant relationship with her father, she and her mother are close and she is also raised by her loving maternal grandparents. As such, she identifies strongly with her Pakistan heritage. From the outside, however, she is seen as black. As such, her experience in the wider world is different from her closest relatives. This provides a unique perspective on how a person’s own identity and history can be negated by the perceptions of others.

Attending university in a predominantly Caucasian school and city, Martis is exposed to just how the world views her skin colour. Men want to seduce her in order to check “black girl” off their sexual conquest list. Professors ask for her permission to discuss racism in class. In one harrowing scene, she is approached by a group in blackface at a bar on Halloween. The overall feeling one gets from Martis as she details these experiences is exhaustion, followed closely by anger. But, of course, she can’t be outwardly angry lest she fall into the stereotype of the angry black woman.

Like Martis, I moved for university from a large, multicultural city to a smaller city with a largely white population. The similarities end there though because while, for me, that was a novelty for the first week or so, I quickly blended in with faces that looked like my own. I’ll be honest, this book made me uncomfortable but I think that’s exactly the reason it should be read. Like Alicia Elliott’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, it draws attention to the racism that is still pervasive in our country, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Martis wants her reader (especially her white reader) to be uncomfortable because her life is made uncomfortable in too many ways simply because of who she is.

Martis tackles multiple themes – from violence to dating – but also weaves her stories artfully together so that we are given a full and nuanced look at her life over the four years she spends in London. I highly recommend this book, especially for her fellow Canadians.

26 thoughts on “Book Review: They Said This Would be Fun by Eternity Martis”

  1. I can’t believe her professors felt the need to ask if they could talk about racism. That’s so….weird to me. Curriculum isn’t set by what makes students comfortable. Then again, there is a trend of students protesting and trying to get professors fired for pretty much anything that could be construed as “offensive,” that I see the instructor’s apprehension. I do remember teaching a lit class called Black Lit in America, and there was one black student in the class, whose mother (possibly also her father, but I never met him) was from Africa. Students kept looking at her for “answers” in the stories, plays, and poems. I had to make it clear that this poor student of the class was not the instructor, and to expect her to share all her personal stories of joy and sorrow was ridiculous. Not only that, but her African parent moving to the U.S. would make her experience different from the long tradition of slave ballads we were talking about!

    1. You know, I wasn’t surprised by that. I can’t think of specific examples but I feel like I’ve witnessed similar things before. I’m glad you were able to make it clear to your students not to expect one student to answer all their questions. As if one person could represent the entire experience of a large and diverse population!

  2. Ugh I’ve visited the Western Campus before, and as a Queens graduate I know her experience would have been the same, if not worse where I went to school. I still haven’t read the Alicia Elliot book before (I know it will make me cringe in more ways than one) but I feel like I should, same as this one.

    1. Sadly, I think this would be her experience at a lot of schools. In one chapter (about rape culture more than race but still) she gives a whole list of examples from schools across North America and it’s depressing how prevalent these issues are.

    2. Yes, not surprising in the least. It’s quite sad really, the toxic behaviours we put up with in university-at Queens, women there had widespread eating disorders and drug problems, it’s depressing to think about.

    3. Oh, I look back with horror at some of the behaviour my friends and I brushed off in university. But we honestly had never been told to expect better of the men around us. I remember it being drilled into us to keep track of our friends and not get really drunk around strangers but were the boys two floors down being told not to assault women?

    1. I’ll be really interested to hear your thoughts when you read it! I hope you don’t find too much to have in common!

    2. Karissa! I purposely came back to this post to reply to your comment since I just finished this book (and I also got lost in your archives in the process!). I assumed I had a similar experience in university, being a person of colour in a majority-white university town, but my experience at university was so simple and carefree compared to Martis! It was a very eye-opening read and I was definitely reminded of my privilege as someone with light skin. (Actually, I remember explicitly learning about privilege in my first-year gender studies class and then wondering why the term “white privilege” seemed to apply so easily to my experience.) Anyways, this was a really great read and like you, I will be recommending it to everyone!

    3. Hi! Thanks for coming back and sharing your thoughts! So interesting to hear about your different experience. I’m glad that yours was more carefree.

  3. Some of the injustices she experienced, like men seducing her to tick off “black woman” on their list, reminds me of Queenie, although in a university setting. May I ask what about it made you uncomfortable? I find that I eventually come to like books that make me uncomfortable and call me out in some way because then I know I’m really learning something new. I felt it with Such a Fun Age and My Dark Vanessa.

    1. I felt uncomfortable (and I think it’s Martis’ intention here) because she’s pointing out systemic issues of racism that it’s really easy for me, as a white woman, to be ignorant of. I went to a small, mostly white university (though in quite a liberal town, as opposed to the city of London, Ontario) but my experience was overwhelmingly positive. It’s uncomfortable for me to look back and realize that while I loved my time in university, there were undoubtedly people around me experiencing some of the things she did. I also think that too often in Canada we like to think that we’re doing ok because “at least we’re not the US” but books like this really shine a lot on the ways we’re still failing.

    2. Sadly, there definitely still is. Our current government is more liberal and has made some steps in the right direction but we’re far from perfect. In our last election there was even a new party running that had some pretty blatantly racist ideas. I am glad to say that they didn’t win any seats anywhere in the country but it was pretty awful to see them have any support at all.

    3. Ah, I’m sorry to hear that. It’s a good thing they didn’t win, but it’s also troubling that they’re cropping up in the first place – maybe kind of like how populist leaders are now gaining momentum in previously very liberal countries.

    4. Yeah, it seems to be happening in a lot of places and I’m not really sure why. I hope that this party doesn’t continue into the next election but there have also been some racist incidents surrounding the coronavirus so unfortunately there are still people who think that way.

    5. Thanks. I definitely think it’s a small amount of people who think that way but unfortunately some have been very vocal.

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