Not all of us are in high-profile, cutthroat work environments that fling a person all over the world, leading to an intimacy with worldwide airports, fine hotels, and finer restaurants. However, Asmi Verma is that corporate woman in Amulya Malladi’s eigthth novel, The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You. The novel doubles as a working woman’s workbook/pep rally and love story to the strength of women everywhere.
Asmi, single and nearly 40 (much to the dismay of her beleaguered Indian mother), loves her work with a passion. Alternatively, she constantly questions – as do all women – if she’s good enough for the VP promotion being dangled in front of her and her colleague, the misogynistic Scott Beauregard III, a card-carrying member of GTech’s “boys’ club.” Despite pitfalls and challenges designed to break both her spirit and the heels of her designer shoes, Asmi does her job around the world at the drop of a boarding pass in the only way she knows how: with thoughtful leadership and unwavering professionalism. To some readers, this will be an escapist fairy-tale world of jet-setting and high corporate stakes and positioning. Most of us don’t and will never experience what Asmi does – not even a fraction. But that’s fine because it heightens the emotion, the intrigue, the struggle.
Asmi (which appropriately means “I Am” in Sanskrit), is complex yet simple, able to joke but see things as they are. She’s strong and confident, but she still has the doubt we women were raised to carry with us. In other words, she’s not some unimaginable robot super-woman who has no flaws. She’s relatable even though, for most people, she’s at a stage in her profession that most readers probably could only dream about.
In contrast to Asmi is her sister, Ananya (the pair I call The A-Team). Ananya is the stay-at-home mother to Asmi’s work animal. They are the yin-yang of the story, the balance, the greener grass on the other side. Together, as one, they would, indeed, have it all, and yet both are distinct personalities. Brava for that contrast and blend, Amulya! I love how their pendulums swing over the course of the book.
Truths and tales of the working world are the foundation of the novel, and imperfections are as front and center as are victories. Malladi doesn’t point the finger at men only … just the one finger they deserve and a couple of others. And yet, Malladi rightfully sees fit to include supportive male colleagues and a tribe of like-minded, supportive female colleagues.
As a bonus between each chapter is an excerpt from the business workbook, “And Then She Said …” which highlights Asmi’s growth from beginning to end. The workbook is a clever side publication that coaches, lifts, and supports women’s attitudes toward getting that better position, negotiating a better salary, and above all, finding and holding the confidence within themselves to do their best and greatest. If only I’d had that workbook decades ago!
Asmi’s story is glamorous on the surface but down and dirty real. No matter what your job is in life, this is the book to make you feel you best and cheer for the underdog all the way to the finish line. Once you start reading, it will be more than difficult to put it down.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. I also was privileged to read an early draft of this novel.