Anna Yen’s debut novel “Sophia of Silicon Valley” tells the insider story of a young Chinese-American woman whose life and career get a boost from a couple of idiosyncratic high-powered high-tech moguls.
Now in her 40s, Yen herself calls it a thinly veiled memoir of her years working closely as an investors relations expert and liaison next to Steve Jobs (when he was at Pixar) and, later, Tesla’s Elon Musk.
A super easy read, the book amuses with behind-the-scenes conversations about the machinations of big business during twentysomething Sophia Young’s tenure at Treehouse (i.e. Pixar), having merged with Samba (Disney) as it prepares for its initial public offering and the release of the movie “Treasures” (“Toy Story”).
In first person, Sophia serves up detailed descriptions of the glitzy offices where she works, her journeys into luxury hotels and on private planes, and her designer wardrobe choices for big days on the job.
At the outset, she gets fired from a gig in investment banking, but, thanks to connections and a sassy interview, lands on her feet as paralegal at a high-profile Silicon Valley law office where, thanks to 80-hour work weeks, she learns the ins and outs of IPOs.
She gets recruited by one of the firm’s moneyed clients Scott Kraft (Jobs) after he overhears her on the phone getting a difficult client to sign a document under duress (“You have a holistic way of manipulating people,” he tells her) and even manages to become friends with her infamously temperamental superior.
The book’s prologue has her spending $100 on a vegan chocolate chip cookie for him at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza market; by the end, he has gifted her with a live octopus, and the two have shared intimate discussions about health, mortality and love.
And Sophia’s relationship with her old-school, demanding Taiwanese parents — she still lives in her upscale Silicon Valley mansion, lies to them when she spends the night with her boyfriend and deals with their disdain — is vividly portrayed.
Still, in the 21st century and #MeToo era, Sophia’s life registers oddly.
She begins the book yearning for a husband (hoping her banking job would be a path to a “white picket fence and Mrs. Homemaker lifestyle”) and her relationships — gossiping with friends and pining over lovers — often read like something from Seventeen magazine or “Mean Girls.”
Somewhat interesting, yet paradoxically also off-putting, is the fact that Sophia’s success in the male world of high finance has to do with her foul mouth, her ability to keep up and cuss with the boys as much as it does with her skills or business savvy.
While Yen aims for a breezy portrayal of high-tech world in the late 20th century where magnates are humanized and revered for their quirkiness, in the end, “Sophia of Silicon Valley” serves up a mostly surface look at the Bay Area geographic and economic community that changed the world.