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.
At 370 pages, Rao is on the short side for a multigenerational family saga and sweeping social epic ... Rao might appear at first like a welterweight among heavies. Don’t be fooled ... Vara...is a minimalist’s maximalist, leavening lushness of language with economy of execution ... The novel makes rapid shifts between registers of rhetoric and modes of attention, and it moves just as deftly between timelines ... Information-dense microhistories of industry and culture...are folded into scenes of achingly intimate sensory detail ... How to mediate between the competing interests of autonomy and collectivity, the desire for self-sovereignty and the reality of interdependence, is the major question this novel poses, over and over, at familial, societal and global scale ... The Immortal King Rao is a monumental achievement: beautiful and brilliant, heartbreaking and wise, but also pitiless, which may be controversial to list among its virtues but is in fact essential to its success. Vara respects her reader and herself too much to yield to the temptation to console us. How rare these days as a reader — and how bracing, in the finest way — to encounter a novel that refuses to treat you like a child or a studio audience. If that were the only thing to love about Rao, it would probably be enough. But as I’ve said, there’s also everything else.
At its heart, Vauhini Vara’s twisty, thoughtful debut novel, The Immortal King Rao, is a fascinating alternate history and eerily plausible imagined future of the internet—and the tech corporations that have shaped it. With a sureness to her prose and a sharp eye for the tiny details that shape human lives, Vara combines three distinct storylines into a genre-bending, kaleidoscopic spiral of a tale ... an intimate character study, offering an unflinching, close-up look at the complicated bonds of families ... There are no simple relationships in this book, and few moral absolutes ... Satirical and heartbreaking, packed with historical detail and flawless dystopian world building, The Immortal King Rao is a striking multigenerational epic that tackles—and offers a surprising answer to—that age-old question: What are we here for?
... thrilling ... Vara has penned a dynamic and haunting world ... Vara deftly paints Rao, who lives for more than a century, as an eccentric genius whose childhood memories shape his entrepreneurial spirit ... At its heart, The Immortal King Rao is a jarring and meticulous critique of how progress is often confused with goodness.