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The Startup Wife

A Novel

Read by Tanha Dil

In this “wise and wickedly funny novel about love, creativity, and the limitations of the tech-verse” (Vogue) newlyweds Asha and Cyrus find themselves running one of the most popular social media platforms in the world.

Meet Asha Ray. Brilliant coder and possessor of a Pi tattoo, Asha is poised to make a scientific breakthrough when she is reunited with her high school crush, Cyrus Jones.

Before she knows it, Asha has abandoned her lab, exchanged vows with Cyrus, and gone to work at an exclusive tech incubator called Utopia to develop an app called WAI—“We are Infinite.”

WAI creates a sensation, with millions of users logging on every day. Will Cyrus and Asha’s marriage survive the pressures of sudden fame, or will she become overshadowed by the man everyone is calling the new messiah?

This “scathing—and hilarious—take on startup culture, marriage and workaholism” (Politico) explores whether or not technology—with all its limits and possibilities—can disrupt modern love.

This reading group guide for THE STARTUP WIFE includes an introduction and discussion questions. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Asha Ray is the genius behind the revolutionary app We Are Infinite (WAI) that codifies the mystical mind of her husband and childhood crush, Cyrus Jones. As the platform grows exponentially, with millions of people requesting the rituals it offers, Asha finds herself relegated to the background as Cyrus reluctantly, then wholeheartedly, takes the stage. Their once harmonious blend of the professional and personal starts to suffer. How much can a marriage survive?

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. In Chapter One, “Cyrus Jones and the Magic Funeral,” Asha describes Cyrus as “mostly human, a little bit cartoon, a tiny bit ghost.” Having read the book, what do you think of Cyrus as a character? Have you met anyone like him in real life?

2. Think back to your high school crush(es). Do you recall that first feeling of attraction? How would you react if you happened upon that person now?

3. What does Asha’s relationship with her older sister Mira bring to story? How does she add to your understanding of Asha as a person?

4. Jules is a source of support, emotional and financial, for Cyrus and Asha. What other roles does he play in the novel?

5. Recall the manifesto Cyrus writes in Chapter Three:

“We don’t try to convince people to buy things

We don’t spy on anyone

We don’t sell our souls (we don’t sell anything)

and

We are equal partners and make all decisions together.”

Did you predict any of these points might falter? Were you correct?

6. Consider what kind of workplace Utopia is. Would you like to work there? What elements would you like to see in your current work situation?

7. At the end of Chapter Five, Asha thinks about the cultural differences between her and Cyrus, contemplating his “whiteness.” To what extent do you think their differences affect their understanding of each other? Have you had to think about cultural differences in a similar way?

8. Besides WAI, several other app ideas are mentioned in the novel: Consentify, LoneStar, Buttery, Flitter, and so on. Discuss your favorite, or if you have any other start up ideas.

9. Asha, Cyrus, and Jules must delve into all the logistical aspects of starting and growing a business, from assembling the right team to sourcing funding. What seem to be the biggest challenges to starting a business?

10. The novel deals with themes of gender dynamics and white male privilege throughout. At what points can you see these dynamics at play, and how do the characters respond?

11. If you were Asha’s friend, or family member, how would you react to her relationship with Cyrus? Would you have warned her or supported her? What does or doesn’t seem to work about their marriage?

12. Whenever Cyrus feels overwhelmed, like on the anniversary of his mother’s death or after arguing with Jules and Asha, he tends to disappear. Why do you think this is this coping mechanism, and what consequences does it have on his relationship with Asha?

13. What did you make of Cyrus’ apology and surprise announcement in Chapter Fifteen?

14. In the end, Asha admits to herself that she gave Cyrus power over her. How much do you agree with Asha’s assessment of what went wrong?

15. How do you feel about Asha’s overall growth, and her willingness to fix what’s broken at WAI? Is it fair for the responsibility of rebuilding to fall on her?
Photograph © Abeer Hoque

Tahmima Anam is the recipient of a Commonwealth Writers Prize, an O. Henry Prize, and has been named one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. She is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and was recently elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, she was educated at Mount Holyoke College and Harvard University and now lives in London where she is on the board of ROLI, a music tech company founded by her husband.