Novel Approach: Russian spies and shadowy tech shine in ‘Impostor Syndrome’

Photo of TinaMarie Craven

“There will come a time when it isn’ t They re spying on me through my phone anymore. Eventually, it will be My phone is spying on me .” —Philip K. Dick

We’ve all heard about Silicon Valley. We know that the tech minds that make our lives easier churn out their latest ideas in that particular portion of California. But how much do we all really know about the work the cyber-geniuses are conducting to provide us with the latest and greatest technological advancements? Our latest read takes us into the heart of Silicon Valley, where one tech exec isn’t exactly who she appears to be.

‘Impostor Syndrome’ by Kathy Wang

Julia holds the second most powerful position at a massive tech company called Tangerine. She’s lauded for being one of the few women at the top in Silicon Valley and her public persona is all about breaking the glass ceiling and having a healthy work/life balance.

Julia’s reality, however, is very different. Julia is also a spy.

Kathy Wang’s newest novel “Impostor Syndrome” tells the story of Julia’s ascent to tech royalty as a spy for a Russian organization called the SPB. After years of living in Silicon Valley, Julia has become accustomed to her luxurious American lifestyle and is more devoted to maintaining her status at Tangerine than she is to providing the SPB with whatever information they request. As Julia begins to push back against the SPB and her handler Leo, a low-level employee named Alice begins to investigate some strange data numbers at the company...that lead back to Julia’s SPB work.

Told primarily from Julia, Leo and Alice’s perspectives, Wang weaves an intricate tale of tech drama and cat-and-mouse espionage. Julia wants to stay in power but her loyalties lie with her own ambition instead of Moscow’s, while Alice’s curiosity is putting Julia’s future at risk.

“Impostor Syndrome” is a thrilling satire that examines the culture of large tech companies as well as who can and can’t access the American Dream. Wang’s novel also plays up the Big Brother fears many folks have about technology and poses the question, just how secure and private is your online life.

From the book jacket…

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 Lu 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?

If you enjoy…

For readers who enjoy pondering the darker side of technology, the chilling ambition found in Dave Eggers novel “The Circle” might be exactly what you’re looking for.