on February 20, 2008
The title of the novel is a direct play on the Marx/Engels non-fiction analysis on capitalism and its critical applications in society and on the laboring man. Berberian, who has written for the NY & LA Times, as well as for The Financial Times, knows his way around global markets and hedge fund traders, which he exploits to the fullest here. The action takes place from Manhattan's Wall Street to Marseille's mean streets, revolving around three main players: trader Wayne, architecture student Alix, and the mysterious Corsican. Global economies, terrorism and e-mail connects the three players, cocooned in a literary style that is at once cold and calculating while managing to also be very lyrical and haunting. It reminded me of a book from the capitalistic 80s that was never written (something that McInerney or Ellis would have written if they weren't so solipsistic) and had tones of narrative structure and tenseness that Alex Garland achieved in the wonderful "The Tesseract." Ultimately, all of the pieces don't quite come together in the way the author intends, and I was left a little hollower when I finished than when I began... but the writing is tremendous, the juxtaposition between poetic language and stock-trading terminology a near-to-masterful feat. I was never really invested in the characters, yet I followed the author's lead regardless, and let the stellar writing carry me through to the story's conclusion.
on July 24, 2007
Much like the main character Wayne, I avoid fiction novels - unless there is an important lesson that may be derived from the reading. This book perfectly encompasses the reasons why I think fiction should ever be read and it does so with a subtle mockery of the reason that was the source of my disdain: the capital markets.
I loved this book because it so simply highlighted how in our persistent pursuit of wealth, we rarely make the effort to appreciate what we were presumably accumulating the wealth for in the first place. The pleasantries of life such as companionship, of natural beauty, of moderate laziness are replaced with electronic toys, quick thrills (like a ten million dollar play against the market), fragile designer furniture. We become concerned with salaries, investments, 401Ks, retirement planning, expected growth, dividends ... except we forget that the original plan was to use these things to somehow enjoy our lives - although we may have forgotten how to enjoy anything besides the increased return on investment of our portfolios. What good is money if you don't use it?
Berberian clearly understands all of this and coupled with his immaculate descriptions of people, places, and things, he creates a wondrous projection of our capitalist society - not to condemn it but to show that capitalism need not be the sole governing philosophy of our existence.
In total, the perfectly placed instances of humor along with the important and relevant societal messages make for a thoroughly enjoyable and significant literary work. Every lover, financier, employee, and hopeful bon vivant should read this book.
on July 9, 2007
You're going to want to reread this book as soon as it ends. It is the story of today's world, froth with suspension of conscience in the abysmal pursuit of wealth, abated only by primal human needs and wants. You will find the protagonist Wayne endearing despite his obnoxious Manhattanite tendencies complete with a Varda shoe collection and Hans Wegner furniture. You will find comical the fustian melodrama with which he greets his hedgefund colleagues AND his sandwiches that consistently arrive sans the desired avocado. You might even dismiss his utter and specific dedication to econoterrorism. Berberian propels you there. You will be drawn to Wayne's cryptic partnership with a Corsican obsessed with ecopreservation and all things bucolic. He executes Wayne's strategy of blasting international financial landmarks for market manipulation, in as clandestine a manner as he preserves his relations with Wayne's beloved. You might find the Corsican esoteric but easily engage his frustration with a world not concerned with losing its trees or finding its red ants. Perhaps you will most relate to Berberian's Alix. A capricious architecture student, she offers an appreciation of Marseille--its hues and babble--strangely, but alluringly, from its rooftops. Ultimately, she provides Wayne and the Corsican with the actual blueprints necessary for their schemata, and this story the grace it yearns. Berberian tells a harsh story, reminiscent of daily CNN reports (to which we're now immune) from seemingly the middle of nowhere across the Atlantic, with the delicacy of Queen Anne's lace. He weaves, with unparalleled ease, algorithmic theorems and ideologies long-forgotten with amorous details of keeping count of a lover's birthmarks and the sequence of their emails. His storytelling is almost algebraic in design, such that the reader is comfortable with the organized chaos of the intersecting yet linear lives of the characters on different continents and different spheres of thought. He quotes Guy Debord within a page of a generic "roses are red, violets are blue" poem, and, in doing so, helps you internalize and champion the ideologies, strata and human condition of each of his characters. Berberian has a way of making you feel like you are part of the story, aware of every iota of the characters' environment, from furniture that has affect, to eateries screaming with personality, and swimming-pools in glass buildings that tout the best capitalism has to offer. Nothing about Berberian's writing is incidental. His approach is scientific, his lexicon poignant, his wry humor inescapable. However, there is nothing categorical or conditional about the organic manner with which he presents you this story and helps make it your own. This is the story of today's world in which Marx's Das Kapital is challenged daily, and the ultimate victor is never really clear and always victim to interpretation. You're going to want to reread this book as soon as it ends.
on October 17, 2007
When will the comparisons stop? Das Kapital bears no comparison to Coelho or for that matter to DeLillo as the Los Angeles Times asserts, nor to Palachniuk (the San Francisco Chronicle.) Berberian's writing does not owe a debt to anyone. Yet for all its originality, the Corsican eco-terrorist remains somewhat sketchy. I came away wanting to know more about him, and Berberian is as parsimonious as ever with his words, so that you have to think about the silences between them, which gives the Corsican a mysterious, larger than life quality, as if he is living and breathing outside the pages of the book.
There is something immediate and prescient in Berberian's writing (I read the book during august's high market volatility when the S&P plunged, then bounced back.) For all its ironic and psuedo-scientific references, the triumph of the book is that it somehow stays very human, and Wayne and Alix stay with you, with just a few strokes. The book is not about 'fate' as one reader suggested; it's more about the impact of the improbable told in the manic-hyperbolic voice of our times. A great read, an almost black swan.
on August 9, 2007
You should read this book if only for its uncanny alignment with the seemingly unpredictable, frenzied behavior of the financial markets in the past two weeks. Not even the VIX index could foreshadow as accurately as this novel did. How I wish Wayne (or Berberian) would manage my portfolio!
on August 9, 2007
If Viken Berberian had not been such a fine novelist he could easily be a food critic, an architect, a market analyst, an art impresario, a POET ... Aware of most of my contemporaries (me included) suffering of the attention deficit disorder I tried to make the list as short as possible but others might find more applications for this multifaceted artist who at each turn reveals yet another dimension to the story that has an uninhibited flowing quality and whose expertise in the depicted diverse fields is that of marked vastness. It is a novel of manifold intricacies; the obvious ones are: shedding new light on Marx's masterpiece as well as on one of the phenomena of flourishing at Wall Street, along with `ecstasies' promised and fulfilled by French love angulations commingled with the wafting aroma of delicacies, structural details of architectural wonders until a fateful slip sends hearts crumbling (mine too). It would not have been true Berberian if human multiplicity, the rules and games, our feeble balance with the nature, the evil and the divine were not contextual constituents to be gleaned. The world is known to shudder and move on but readers will be awestruck. A brilliant following to his debut THE CYCLIST.
on December 12, 2010
A prophetic novel about the existential soul of a short-seller written and published before the 2008 financial meltdown.
I read this after watching Wall Street and felt the movie heavily borrowed from Berberian's book. I loved the style, the
Facebook love story, before Facebook became what it is.
on October 13, 2007
In The Cyclist, Berberian connected love, sex, food, poetry and terrorism. An intriguing combination, kind of like an awkward diamond--maybe a little off-putting at first, but easier to look at over time.
With Das Kapital, Berberian's second book, possibly (but maybe not, considering the publishing industry nowadays--I only question this because the work is nowhere near as tight as the first book), Berberian takes the lyrical writing of The Cyclist down a notch (or three) and instead of presenting the collision of the personal and political, Berberian attacks the economic and fatalist. The intellectual bend here is even more apparent with the occasional footnotes that, for the most part, explain what seems to make sense by itself in the text (or presumes a reader's unwillingness to look things up), and of course the presentation of Wayne, a trader in failure and market crashes rather than gains. Making out well in the ruin of a tree-cutting firm, he entwines himself into the life of the Corsican, who is also entangled with Alix, a Mersailles resident who also happens to be an email correspondent (and cyberlover) of Wayne's.
In his depiction, Berberian presents Wayne as a hardcore trader who is also a hardcore reader and culturalist, echoing far too closely to DeLillo works like Cosmopolis and Americana, maybe even a hint of Falling Man, but Berberian is nowhere near prepared to take a DeLillo plunge and explore the intricacies and counterproductive pulls of the subject matter and its metaphors, but Berberian is instead limited to the superficial play of capitalism and Marxism, love and passion, etc. My earlier suggestion that this may not be Berberian's second work, but maybe an earlier work picked up with the success of The Cyclist is a mere assumption, but overall the writing here didn't seem as tight as in the debut novel. Berberian obviously wants to be a writer of importance, addressing some of the issues of today, but he does so with little sense of the past or the history of a culture--rather, Berberian wants to play with what we have, which is an admirable trait, but begs too much comparison to DeLillo to really make this work stand wisely on its own.
If and when Berberian's next book comes out, I will no doubt snatch it up and give it a thorough read, for he has good stuff going on in here, but this book doesn't seem to come together by the end to make all of my efforts to read this so necessary.
on April 6, 2011
We read this book in our contemporary fiction class. It was by far my favorite from the list of novels on the syllabus.
I liked it more than The Cyclist by the same author. The story is told artfully and with finesse and while set across
several continents, it is unified through epistolary exchanges and the rapid fire offered by financial platforms. If you
want to get into the existential soul of a stock trader, this is a great novel. If you want a pure thriller, this is probably
not your type of book.