Ivanka Trump’s 2009 bestseller – ‘The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life’ is a refreshing treatise on the Trump family policies and the underprivileged life of a rich girl, writes Rohan Swamy.
I must confess this is one book I regret not reading when it came out in 2009. In the year 2009, I was reporting, as a journalist, from some of the poorest districts in India and did not even have access to a decent Internet connection, let alone have a smartphone. Also, the Trump family weren’t as well known back then. Only Donald Trump was well known to most young Indians as the guy who came on WWE and shaved off Vince McMahon’s hair and was on the receiving end of a Stone Cold Steve Austin stunner. The elite folks knew him from the television series ‘The Apprentice’. I myself learnt moderately well about his businesses only after I became a full time journalist. So it was obvious that, since India was taking baby steps towards learning about the ‘Trump’ heritage, we wouldn’t have heard about his daughter Ivanka and her book, ‘The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life’ back then.
So when I first read about the book, a couple of days back in an editorial, I was surprised – not pleasantly of course. Although the editorial was a little harsh on the poor little rich princess, it piqued my interest in the book. I have made the transition to a full time writer and reading new material is always a pleasure. And as harsh as other editorials were about the book, I really wanted to read it. It is little surprise how the book sales for Ivanka’s 2009 best seller have suddenly shot up after daddy dearest won the right to conduct his businesses from the Oval Office. It has almost put book critics into a dilemma, as journalists are fast dissecting the wonderful adjectives used to describe the ‘bestseller’.
Case in point; here is a review by Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of U.S Vogue: "The Trump Card" is appealing, grounded, smart, and has a sense of humor. Ivanka Trump proves that believing in yourself and working hard never go out of style." It almost made me punch in my debit card details on Amazon to buy the e-book. And then I read the original editorial that led to a spade of other stories (including this) by Jia Tolentino of the New Yorker. An excerpt from her article reads; “In one passage, Ivanka recounts how she "had no such advantages" to set up a lemonade stand outside Trump Tower, suggesting the inability was a setback. Ivanka commented on her troubles setting up a lemonade stand as making "the best out of a bad situation.”” I decided I wasn’t going to give more money to the already rich Trumps. Instead I found a website based out of Slovenia (where Melania Trump – FLOTUS Elect, hails from) that provided me a PDF of the entire book for free.
As a writer it is a terrible crime to get books off the black market in the real as well as the virtual world, because the money doesn’t go to the publishers and eventually the author. I convinced myself saying that, I was just robbing from thieves, and that there was nothing wrong in taking a few dollars from the daughter of an obnoxious businessman.
But then I did read the book. And it reminded me of Richie Rich. Well not the Hanna-Barbara cartoon, but the tagline – ‘the poor little rich boy’. Of course in this case it was a princess. Ms. Trump’s book is full of paradoxes in their own right. From making poor bodyguards and family help buy lemonade from her and her brothers, to egging (read as pleading/begging) the readers to move on from grumbling about, how even though she has had an edge getting started in business and life, nothing was handed down to her, the book has it all. Oh did I mention, her mother made her fly coach to the south of France? It was a moment of epiphany for her as she realised that she needed to make her own money. My moment of epiphany regarding making my own money came when my father refused to buy me a bicycle for one of my birthdays.
The book is full of lovely, witty anecdotes just as these ones. There is life advice in the section called ‘Bulletins from my Blackberry’. I cannot hold her guilty for her choice of business phones, because back then in 2009, Blackberry was the business phone for high achievers just as herself. India didn’t have high speed Internet back then, (it still doesn’t) so there was no point in carrying around a fancy phone. Not that people could afford them back then (or now), anyway. In fact, Ivanka periodically reminds the reader that her life was not one of privilege. Her parents made her work for everything she wanted. In fact, they even taught her a minimalistic approach to life, reminding her periodically that she did not need anything more than what she already had, and that less was always more. My parents taught me similar things too, but for entirely different reasons.
To tell you the truth, I think people have judged her in recent times, after her father’s victory, too harshly. I mean it wasn’t her fault that she was born privileged. It wasn’t her fault that the household help had to part with a part of their salaries to buy lemonade from her. And it certainly wasn’t her fault that we hadn’t heard of her in India in 2009, when her book first came out. The important thing to take back from the book, and from her life, is the fact that she never gave up and that she turned every conceivable obstacle, en route, into an opportunity to grow, even if it came at the cost of taking money from the marginalised to fill her own piggy bank whilst making them feel grateful about it.
After all she is her father’s daughter.