Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Multimedia Review: Kapitoil, by Teddy Wayne

1. Podcast — Interview With Teddy Wayne 
Click "play" below to hear Teddy Wayne and I discuss his debut novel Kapitoil. The novel is about a computer program named Karim Issar, haling from the country Qatar, who comes to New York in the fall of 1999 to help his company Schrub Equities deal with the Y2K bug. Along the way, he writes a program that can accurately predict oil futures. Hilarity, and a huge moral dilemma, ensue.

2. My Kapitoil Review
Kapitoil, by Teddy Wayne

You might expect a character like Karim Issar, who corrects others' grammar, who doesn't get humor, whose language is sprinkled with techno-financial business geek speak, and who lays out his decision-making processes in painstaking, ultra-logical detail, to not be the most likable fellow you've ever read. But you'd be wrong — Karim is actually a wonderfully sympathetic, interesting character. And his story is equally sympathetic, interesting, and fun.

Karim's story begins in the fall of 1999 with a cross-Atlantic flight, during which he makes up math problems to amuse himself. Karim is coming to American to work on the Y2K problem in the New York office of the investment company he'd worked for in Doha, Qatar. After a co-worker steals credit for a profitable program he develops, he's more cautious with his next endeavor: The Kapitoil program, which accurately predicts oil futures and makes his struggling company a crapload of cash.

Meanwhile, Karim also explores the nightlife of New York, heading out to clubs, museums and parties with his clownish co-workers. Through an often painful (but fun to read) trial-and-error process, he slowly learns American etiquette on everything from one-night stands to interoffice crushes. Soon, circumstances force Karim into a tough choice regarding Kapitoil, and his traditional Qatari values collide with the possibility to make a ton of money for himself — but at a pretty hefty moral cost.

It's a straightforward narrative, but Karim's voice and Wayne's writing are anything but. Karim's voice, as Wayne explains in the podcast above, is the result of Wayne's desire to write a novel with an idiosyncratic voice guiding the narrative as well as his want to use language to be disruptive— but in a good way, because Karim's false starts with language and violations of American etiquette make you cringe and laugh at the same time. And as Karim begins learning the ways of New York, the novel begins to move from a laugh-at-Karim, to now laughing-with-Karim dynamic. He slowly begins to "get it" and as his moral dilemma arrives, you're confident he's now equipped with the tools to make the right decision. But will he? 

If you're a fan hip, urban fiction, you'll dig this.  If you enjoyed the way Jonathan Safran Foer wrote his character Alex in Everything is Illuminated — stilted, just-a-bit-off-English — you'll really enjoy Karim specifically but also the novel on the whole. It's a quick read and definitely one worth checking out, especially if you're someone (like me) who enjoys "getting in on the ground floor" of talented new novelists, like Mr. Wayne. But this isn't just some obscure novel from a writer you'll never hear from again — Teddy Wayne writes frequently for the New York Times (and many other pubs) and Kapitoil was blurbed by Jonathan Franzen and given a coveted "starred review" by both Publisher's Weekly and Booklist.

3. Book Trailer

(Disclaimer: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not compensated for this review. That would've been nice, though.)


  1. Just popping in from the Blog Hop! I haven't visited you in awhile,and congrats on your first podcast!

    Have a great day!

  2. Hey you, just following on the hop and the Friday Follow. Great site. Come visit me.
    See ya!

  3. Great interview, Greg. The book sounds interesting. If only I had time to sneeze right now.

  4. I just reviewed this book on my blog with a link to your post:

    I liked the book, but not as much as I was expecting. I have mixed feelings about, but overall thought it was interesting.

    Very cool that you were able to interview the author!

  5. Greg, have you seen this week's Shouts & Murmurs? It's by Teddy Wayne.

    I'm not a fan of "Mad Men" so the humor was lost on me.