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The Immortal King Rao: Book summary and reviews of The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara

The Immortal King Rao

A Novel

by Vauhini Vara

The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara X
The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara
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About this book

Book Summary

In an Indian village in the 1950s, a precocious child is born into a family of Dalit coconut farmers. King Rao will grow up to be the most accomplished tech CEO in the world and, eventually, the leader of a global, corporate-led government.

In a future in which the world is run by the Board of Corporations, King's daughter, Athena, reckons with his legacy―literally, for he has given her access to his memories, among other questionable gifts.

With climate change raging, Athena has come to believe that saving the planet and its Shareholders will require a radical act of communion―and so she sets out to tell the truth to the world's Shareholders, in entrancing sensory detail, about King's childhood on a South Indian coconut plantation; his migration to the U.S. to study engineering in a world transformed by globalization; his marriage to the ambitious artist with whom he changed the world; and, ultimately, his invention, under self-exile, of the most ambitious creation of his life―Athena herself.

The Immortal King Rao, written by a former Wall Street Journal technology reporter, is a resonant debut novel obliterating the boundaries between literary and speculative fiction, the historic and the dystopian, confronting how we arrived at the age of technological capitalism and where our actions might take us next.

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Media Reviews

"[A] potent debut...Vara ingeniously identifies portentous links between history and the book's present, such as the parallel Athena draws between the rise and fall of the East India Company with the Shareholder government run by her father. And with King 'cursed' at birth, Vara succeeds at making her family portrait the stuff of myth. This is not to be missed." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Alternating between Rao's childhood in a small Indian village, his early student days in the US, and the dystopian society in which Athena has to function, Vara's original debut delivers challenging and weighty themes with a sure hand." - Booklist (starred review)

"Vara's strengths are in her clever wordplay and trenchant observations...Some of Vara's minor characters are less well drawn, though, and the line between satire and stereotype at times grows thin...Even for tech geniuses, climate change may soon be beyond any algorithm's ability to repair." - Kirkus Reviews

"An exacting writer of the digital age, journalist Vara makes her debut with a trippy novel that marries the family saga with a biotech satire...Vara has a gift for humanizing the invisible labor that happens behind our screens. Who, if anyone, can really separate themselves from the digital ties that bind us?" - Vulture

"A brilliant and beautifully written book about capitalism and the patriarchy, about Dalit India and digital America, about power and family and love." -The Observer (UK)

"Utterly, thrillingly brilliant. From the first unforgettable page to the last, The Immortal King Rao is a form-inventing, genre-exploding triumph. Vauhini Vara's bravura debut has reshaped my brain and expanded my heart." - R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries

"In this richly imagined saga spanning past, present, and future, Vauhini Vara brings us a visionary who makes the world in his image, and the strong-willed daughter whose life could be his final legacy. Vara's brilliance is matched only by her heart, and this unforgettable debut will challenge what you think you know about genius, capitalism, consciousness, and what it means to be human." - Anna North, author of Outlawed

"Vara comes out the gate with a masterwork: a book that is three great novels in one–the tale of a thriving and chaotic Dalit clan in the first decades of independent India; an immigrant success story in '80s America; and a dystopian nightmare of the post-Trump future." - Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs

"The Immortal King Rao is an odyssey of the grandest scale, spanning over a century and charting a Dalit immigrant's rise to world power. Vauhini Vara fuses intricate family lore with the history of tech solutionism and capitalist demagoguery, pointing forward to a dangerously likely future of corporate dominion; she writes with the meticulous clarity of a longform journalist, the explosive force of a Trident missile, and the ambition of her own brilliant protagonists." - Tony Tulathimutte, author of Private Citizens

This information about The Immortal King Rao was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Barbara O. (Red Bank, NJ)

Brilliant Read
I'm not usually drawn to dystopian settings but this book is so much more than that. It's a brilliant story about Indian family culture and the rise of a young Dalit child to world reknown in the computer age. The author cleverly reveals past and present in her storytelling as she draws the reader deeper into the success and fall of King Rao. Vauhini Vaka uses the ubiquitous computer and imagines a world turned upside down with political upheaval and challenges the reader to think about the world around them. I loved it.


Outstanding Debut!
The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara manages to incorporate at least half dozen popular fiction topics, including post-colonialism India, fraught family relationships, immigration, income disparity, politically divided society and technology over-reach, in a powerful and engaging story. This is no small feat for an experienced writer, but is extraordinary to discover in a debut novel.
The story covers the one-hundred-year plus life of King Rao (his name, not a title) as told from the perspective of his eighteen year old daughter. Through her father's technology, Athena is able to access her fathers' memories about his impoverished childhood as a lower-caste Dalit, his immigration to, and university education in, the United States, and his rise to become the co-founder of one of the most influential computer and social media companies in the world. Vara smoothly moves back and forth between two centuries, between King's past and Athena's present life, to weave the story of how quickly and how far the world has moved forward in a short amount of time—with a warning for us as she looks to the future.
Vara's characters come alive on the page, from a dusty family compound outside a small Indian village to a utopian compound in the future. She is able to take an advanced technological concept and make it realistic, understandable and fascinating. I am NOT a "sci-fi" fan in the least, but I found myself unable to put this book down at times. I'm already looking forward to Vara's next endeavor.

John W. (Saint Louis, MO)

Liked Station Eleven then You'll Love This Book!
The Immortal King Rao is a very intriguing and well written story that is extremely appropriate for the time we are living where big tech dominates our lives in more ways than ever envisioned. It tells a story of a dystopian society of an Indian man who invents a computer and social order that treats every person in the world as a shareholder. Each person's actions raise or lowers your shares. Like any corporation there is a Board that oversees the new world order and an algorithm that decides the value or payment of your actions. Initially King Rao and his wife are busy creating new products but then King Rao disappears. He moves to a small island with his daughter Athena. Athena has been given all her father's memories. Athena loves her dad and her life until her father is unable to answers her questions. She leaves her father, joins a group known as the Exes and lives on Bainbridge Island where they don't live by the rules and algorithm of the Coconut.

Reminded me of "Station Eleven" and as I previously stated the book seemed extremely appropriate of our current love / hate relationship with big tech. I enjoyed it very much and highly recommend it especially to fans of "Station Eleven".

Laurie S., Minneapolis, MN

King Rao: A Techno Odyssey
A searing satire of technology's effects on individuals and society. Consider it a 21st century odyssey on the magnitude of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" combined with Hollywood's techno thriller Inception.

Vauhini Vara's "The Immortal King Rao" follows the story of King Rao and his daughter Athena. From 1950s India to the near future of Seattle, the story moves back and forth from castes, nations, to a new way of life controlled by technology's power brokers. The novel explores what happens if online information is curated and controlled, and what happens when technology is developed to connect users to this information. Where and how do people, countries, and ideas begin and end?

Beverly J. (Hoover, AL)

Smart, Clear-eyed, Riveting!
A clear-eyed and endlessly thought-provoking entertaining read of the age-old debate of the role of technology as a tool for betterment, and opportunity.

The author displays her journalist skills as she effectively combines a matter-of-fact view with intimate details across a vast and diverse timeline from 1950s India of a rural Dalit community to the 1970s United States and the beginning of the rise the entrepreneurial technological behemoths to the futuristic corporate-run governments with algorithm driven solutions being the norm as climate change rages its revenge.

This was a smart, original, and completely absorbing read for me from the mysterious introduction of the narrator, Althea, accused of murdering her father (the King Rao of the title), the fresh look at the Dalit community, and the encroaching role of technology versus individual choice/freedom.

Raising fascinating questions, this book is a terrific pick for book groups that enjoy discussing timely issues.


The immortal king Rao
It is a touching story and a great one, you must have been practicing for months I recommend this book, one of the best. May God grant you more wisdom.

...16 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Vauhini Vara

Vauhini Vara has worked as a Wall Street Journal technology reporter and as the business editor for The New Yorker. Her fiction has been honored by the O. Henry Prize and the Rona Jaffe Foundation. From a Dalit background, she lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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