King Rao—one of the protagonists from Vauhini Vara’s novel The Immortal King Rao—is like many of the tech founders we idolize today. King comes from humble beginnings—born into a Dalit family in a coconut grove in India—moves to the U.S., and launches a company that ends up dominating the world.
But Vauhini’s novel is also the story of King’s daughter Athena, living in the world created by her father’s company: a world of social credit, “hothouse earth” and “Shareholder Government”.
The Immortal King Rao presents a techno-dystopia that may be recognizable for us today. But it’s more than just a warning about the future—Vauhini’s novel weaves together scenes from the past and the near future to tell a story about caste in India and the growth of our modern-day tech sector.
Vauhini Vara has worked as an editor at the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and the Atlantic, and as a journalist for those publications and others, including the Wall Street Journal, where she began her career. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her fiction has appeared in Tin House and McSweeney‘s and has been honored by the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the O Henry Prize, and the Canada Council for the Arts. Her essay about grieving her sister’s death, “Ghosts”—published in The Believer and adapted by This American Life—will be anthologized in The Best American Essays 2022. She is the secretary for Periplus, a mentorship collective serving writers of color, and a mentor for the Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Book Project.
In this interview, Vauhini and I talk about The Immortal King Rao, how the experience of her family’s Dalit heritage motivated her to write the book, and what companies, perhaps, inspired the techno-dystopia seen in her novel.