Vauhini Vara: How Fiction Helps Us Understand the Path We’re on Now
This Week on the Book Dreams Podcast
Fiction can invite the reader into unknown worlds and perspectives, or it can hold up a mirror so that we can see the familiar more clearly. In this episode of Book Dreams, co-hosts Eve Yohalem and Julie Sternberg talk to first-time novelist Vauhini Vara about her new book, The Immortal King Rao. Together they explore how fiction helps us understand the path we’re on now, whether we can—or should—transcend global capitalism, how technology has played a role in the fracturing of family relationships and can also help give voice to what was once inexpressible—and the reason we exist at all.
From the episode:
Eve Yohalem: It’s fascinating to read about the rise of capitalism in postcolonial India alongside the rise of the tech industry in the US starting in the 1970s. Can you say a bit about the similarities and differences there, and what made you excited to explore them?
Vauhini Vara: In the novel, King Rao grows up on this family coconut farm, where everything is done communally. The work of the family is done communally; the family profits, instead of being doled out to workers as wages, are used to feed the family and make repairs and do everything communally.
Over the course of the plot of the book, around the 1960s, that changes. There’s a fracturing of that communal approach. And it mirrors something that was taking place in India during that time in general: farming was becoming more corporate. And so family farms, in order to compete, had to take a similar approach.
So there was not only a fracturing of a certain approach to business, but also a fracturing of family relationships too. I think this fracturing of family is probably inherent to global capitalism, too, as people now travel away from their ancestral homes to find work. Sometimes when people travel from one country to another to find work, global capital is dispersed, right? I wanted to show that on a very domestic scale on the family farm. And then also to show how in the 1970s and beyond, technology has played a role in a similar fracturing of human relationships.
Vauhini Vara has worked as a Wall Street Journal technology reporter and as the business editor for The New Yorker. From a Dalit background, she is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an O. Henry Prize winner. The Immortal King Rao was her first novel. It was a New York Times Editor’s Choice and was named a Best Book of the Year by NPR and Esquire.
Book Dreams uses books to explore topics we can’t stop thinking about. Hosted by Julie Sternberg and Eve Yohalem, Book Dreams releases new episodes every Thursday. Visit our website for more about the show: www.bookdreamspodcast.com.