Monday, September 13, 2010

Kapitoil - Teddy Wayne

Book: Kapitoil
Author: Teddy Wayne
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Published Date: April 2010

Short and sweet, I loved this book.  It's flown to one of my top favorites this year.  But I have a back story so just stick with me...

I sometimes get emails from the wonderful Harper ladies about books that I can choose to review.  I pick some while others I leave alone.  I've become pretty picky about what I want to read.  This one looked and sounded pretty interesting, was set in New York City, and involved a NYC financial company.  Back when I lived in NYC, I worked for one of those high profile companies.  So I picked this one to read and review.  A few days after I got the book, Teddy Wayne himself emailed me.  Wow.  I was excited.  He was very polite and nice and said if I wanted to do an interview or whatever after I read the book to let him know.  Wow!

So I picked the book up, read the first few pages and had a huge sense of dread.  I hated the main character.  After just a few pages, he just annoyed me and I put the book down.  O no!

It took me a while to finally get around to reading it.  My husband read it, dog-earred it (yeah I know) and still I was procrastinating.  Finally I read it and I am so glad I did because around page 32 the book hooked me and I finished it in two days.

Here's the story:

It starts out in October 1999 and Karim Issar, a computer programmer, is flying to NYC to help Wall Street with the whole Y2K bug.  It's his first time to the US and the first time he'll be so far away from his home in Qatar, his family, and his favorite sister Zahira.  At first he's just a cubicle drone until he thinks up a program for predicting oil prices, a program he names Kapitoil.  This program propels him into the high-life where he meets the company head, uses the company jet, and basically lives the fancy NYC life.  However, once he meets a girl named Rebecca at a party, he starts to realize some of the moral consequences of living this type of life. 

Ok, that's the story in a nut shell.  What I had a hard time at the beginning but what I ended up really enjoying about the book is the oddity of Karim.  He has such a different way of viewing the world and interacting with the world.  At the beginning he really sounds like a computer.  I read one person's review on GoodReads comparing him to the autistic character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  While I don't think it's that extreme, Karim is has a different outlook and not all of it is his trouble with the American language.  For instance, he uses the word consume for eat.  He uses the word stimulated for excited.  He keeps a voice recorder on him at all times so that in the evenings, he can jot down in a journal the new things he learns.  The story is written journal style and at the end of every chapter, there are words and phrases listed that he's learned.

Here's an excerpt from when Karim is at a party:

She smiles but does not respond to my observation. Instead she says, "I feel badly that we're not talking to the others."

The others are also not talking to us.  "Is your tactile sense inefficient?"

"What do you mean?" she asks.

"You used the adverbial form of "I feel bad" to express a negative emotion and said 'I feel badly,' which means your sense of touch is performing poorly."

Again she smiles and says nothing.  I certify that this is the last time I will note anything about usage or grammar to an American.

What bugged me first about Karim started to really endear me him.  As the story progresses, he learns more American phrases.  I started to really understand his moral quandary because I've seen it happen to people in New York City.  I remember seeing summer analysts come in all green and nice from college and within a few weeks they've totally changed into little monsters with far too much money available to them in expense accounts and going to far too many parties on week nights.  So it happens.

I loved watching Karim's learning progress.  I loved watching his Cinderella story with the Kapitoil program.  I loved watching him fall in love with Rebecca.

After I read this my husband and I discussed it over pizza one night.  I think this would make a great book club pick and at least a great discussion book.  I did shock my husband though when I told him about the interview and he realized that the author wasn't from the Middle East.  Here's the author:

Teddy Wayne is a graduate of Harvard and the Writing Program at Washington University in St. Louis, where he also taught fiction and creative nonfiction writing.  His fiction, satire, and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Esquire, McSweeney's, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere.  He lives in New York.


Teddy Wayne answered some questions for me so stick around and tomorrow I will post my interview with him. 

Also Reviewed by:

The New Dork Review of Books
The Olive Reader (The Worst Biz Jargon Ever)


  1. This is a new to me title. Glad u enjoyed this one. I just couldn't add another book to my list at this time...LOL

  2. This is also totally new to me. Nice review.

  3. Loved this book too (thanks for the link) - just a lot of fun. Good point about how Karim's language evolves as he begins to "get it" more and more.

  4. I haven't heard of this one before, but I might need to look this one up just to see how the flow of it goes, too -- I've got so many on the list right now, though, how does this happen??

  5. But Teddy Wayne is a very American name. Does not sound Middle Eastern at all. Fine review.