Ambition, Greed, and Love Collide in a Brilliant New Novel

Sanjena Sathian’s stunning Gold Diggers calls into question the relentless American pursuit of success

Angela Lashbrook
9 min readApr 8, 2021

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Our plan, I calculated quickly on pen and paper as I sprawled on Anita’s floor one weekday morning, would involve the abduction of a few thousand dollars’ worth of property. Grand theft. Up to ten years in prison.

If you could drink a beverage that imbued you with the ambition, passion, and energy of someone you admired, would you? What if that beverage were infused with liquid gold? What if you had to steal that gold from the person whose ambition you craved? And what if, by claiming that ambition for yourself, you threatened to drain that person of their own drive?

This is the magic that Neil Narayan and Anita Dayal, two Atlanta teens and the children of parents who immigrated from India, cultivate in Anita’s basement, to varying success. Anita is naturally driven, and thrives from the attention of her beloved mother, who for all intents and purposes is a single mom after her cold and distant husband moves to California. Neil needs a bit more help. He’s aimless and ambivalent about what he wants from life; all he knows is that he is expected to be something more, someone who can compete with his terrifyingly ambitious Atlanta friends and show his family how worthy he is of their love and admiration. This desperation, however, turns sour, and when he goes too far, his community pays a terrible price that will haunt him for years.

Study in Rhythm: Red and Gold. Joseph Schillinger, 1934. Courtesy of the Smithsonian.

Nearly a decade later, Neil is a graduate student at Berkeley half-heartedly writing his dissertation on the California Gold Rush, while Anita is enmeshed in Silicon Valley, working at a toxic startup and surrounded by tech billionaires, narcissists, and assholes. When she tracks Neil down with a desperate plea for help, he readily agrees, knowing he’ll get another taste of the gold drink that he thinks would help him finally get his life back on track — and a shot at finally being with Anita, with whom he’s been in love for years. But the stakes are high — potentially even higher than…

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Angela Lashbrook

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.