On June 3, 2021, Bangladeshi-born British writer Tahmima Anam published her fifth book, The Startup Wife (Canongate, 2021), a novel about coding, entrepreneurship, human relationships, and finding one's voice. In a conversation with writer and broadcaster Georgina Godwin on the same day, Anam discussed the book at a Hay Festival session broadcasted live on the event website.
Born to immigrant parents and trained at MIT, Anam's protagonist Asha Ray, upon a chance encounter with her high school crush-turned husband Cyrus, sets out to develop an algorithm that generates rituals for its secular, non-religious app users. Asha's brainchild serves as a device through which the author is able to comment on "how power works" and on life in the age of social media—in which the fundamental entrepreneurial impulse is to "disrupt" life as it is and offer something better. Whether Asha is able to assert her own role in her personal journey as a "startup wife" is what drives the novel forward.
"I've had a very complicated relationship with Bangladesh, which is a place that I wrote about for 10 years and something that I will always write about", Anam shared during the Hay interview, addressing the departure in her subject matter for this novel.
In her earlier work, the Golden Age trilogy had seen three generations of the Haque family evolve along with a newly-born Bangladesh; with the liberation war, military rule, and religious fundamentalism among its main themes, the series had a gravity and "a high body count" that often had its author weeping during the process of her writing it.
"With this book, I just want to think I'm funny,'' Anam shared.
The Startup Wife is almost a rom-com—with Nora Ephron and Jennifer Wiener on her palette, the author had her fun while writing it, creating Asha's own Spotify playlist and making up a fake website, utopiacollective.ai, which one can still visit.
It almost made her consider using a pseudonym. "I wanted to claim a space that isn't something you'd expect me to claim", Anam said.
Having transferred to a digital platform for the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's Hay Festival is free to register and participate from across the world.
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