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Impostor Syndrome by Kathy Wang
Contemporary fiction

Impostor Syndrome

by Kathy Wang

Excellent choice

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Quick take

Big Brother turns out to be Big Sister in this piercing take on Silicon Valley and the misogyny that keeps it ticking.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Millenial

    Millennial

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Snarky

    Snarky

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Tech

    Tech world

Synopsis

In 2006 Julia Lerner is living in Moscow, a recent university graduate in computer science, when she’s recruited by Russia’s largest intelligence agency. By 2018 she’s in Silicon Valley as COO of Tangerine, one of America’s most famous technology companies. In between her executive management (make offers to promising startups, crush them and copy their features if they refuse); self-promotion (check out her latest op-ed in the WSJ, on Work/Life Balance 2.0); and work in gender equality (transfer the most annoying females from her team), she funnels intelligence back to the motherland. But now Russia's asking for more, and Julia’s getting nervous.

Alice is a first-generation Chinese American whose parents are delighted she’s working at Tangerine (such a successful company!). Too bad she’s slogging away in the lower echelons, recently dumped, and now sharing her expensive two-bedroom apartment with her cousin Cheri, a perennial “founder’s girlfriend”. One afternoon, while performing a server check, Alice discovers some unusual activity, and now she’s burdened with two powerful but distressing suspicions: Tangerine’s privacy settings aren’t as rigorous as the company claims they are, and the person abusing this loophole might be Julia Lerner herself.

The closer Alice gets to Julia, the more Julia questions her own loyalties. Russia may have placed her in the Valley, but she's the one who built her career; isn’t she entitled to protect the lifestyle she’s earned? Part page-turning cat-and-mouse chase, part sharp and hilarious satire, Impostor Syndrome is a shrewdly-observed examination of women in tech, Silicon Valley hubris, and the rarely fulfilled but ever-attractive promise of the American Dream.

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Impostor Syndrome

LEO

Whenever Leo Guskov met a person of interest, he liked to ask about his or her parents. If the response was cagey, he made note, and if he thought he’d go further, then he was careful to ensure the subject’s family-history paperwork was complete. Though it wasn’t that Leo believed you needed good parents to be productive. In fact, in his line of work, bad parents were often an advance indicator of success. An early acquaintanceship with adversity, of conquering that high mountain of disappointment and dread; the desire to serve, to be loyal and exceed expectations, if only to garner the approval earlier denied.

Where he sat now, inside a university auditorium by the Moskva River, Leo was surrounded by mothers and fathers (likely most good, some bad). He slouched and let wash over him the flotsam of idle complaint that comprised the background of Moscow life: a two-hour delay on the MKAD; expensive cucumbers at the grocer; a callous dermatologist at the state clinic, who’d refused to stay late and do a body check—there was alcohol on his breath and he said he had to bring home dinner. Just because his wife cannot keep house, so I have to die . . . ?

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Why I love it

Julia Kall is a top executive at Tangerine, one of the world’s most valuable technology companies, and—unbeknownst to everyone around her—an undercover Russian spy. Alice Lu is a low-level employee at Tangerine whose only motivation is to not get fired. She also happens to be the person who inadvertently discovers Julia’s secret.

At heart, this book is about two women fighting for the right to make their own decisions against the patriarchal systems of Silicon Valley and the Russian government. Julia’s handler wants her to risk her own position in the company to hack user data, but after years of hard work, Julia loves her job and feels proud of her accomplishments in building Tangerine. Alice, on the other hand, is also facing tough decisions. Inspired by Julia’s boldness, she seeks justice for a crime committed against her mother years earlier. As the two women learn more and more of each other’s true identities, a cat-and-mouse game ensues and both of their lives are forever changed.

As a Chinese-American woman who has worked in tech, I rooted for every character. In Julia and Alice, I saw my own strengths and weaknesses, insecurities and aspirations. This book is an impeccably-plotted and snarky page-turner, and its portrayal of Silicon Valley is so accurate that I laughed out loud a few times. Impostor Syndrome will hook you in until the very last page.

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Member ratings (9,024)

  • Lexi C.

    Oak Harbor, WA

    I was totally hooked by the spy side of this book! I couldn’t decide who I wanted to root for, and got so wrapped up in knowing all sides of the story. Don’t we all feel a little bit like an imposter?

  • Alexandra S.

    Lansing, MI

    Slow start to the book, not gonna lie, but I got totally sucked in once the other characters got introduced. Got to the end and went “that’s it? Where’s the rest of the story? I want more!” Keeper

  • Chelsea P.

    Akron, OH

    I didn’t think I was gonna love it. I was so happy that a serious book let everyone have a happy ending. I sometimes think authors forget fiction doesn’t necessarily need to have a realistic endings.

  • Eleni S.

    Murray, UT

    Being a lady in Silicon Valley tech seems intense, as is being a Russian spy. Interesting to see the different trajectories of Julia and Alice, as they deal with patriarchal environment. Surprising ❤️

  • Kristen D.

    Bend , OR

    Loved the attention this book brings to the struggle of being a female in a male dominated industry. The existing constructs cause even powerful female leaders to fight each other for the ‘one spot’

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