Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne

lisaortiz1221's review against another edition

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this has got to be one of the most unique character pieces i’ve ever read! Karim’s idiosyncratic, techno-savvy character and his story will have you laughing out loud in Wayne’s excellent debut novel.

"Business manuals explain how valuable it is to have a sense of humor, so I am studying how others produce jokes, such as making a statement that is clearly the reverse of what you truly mean and using a tone of voice that indicates the reversal."

in the months leading up to the turn of the century, we follow our number crunching protagonist Karim Assar, a brilliant programmer from Qatar, as he relocates to New York City to help Schrub Equities through the Y2K transition. while there, he develops a program that will predict oil futures, which he aptly names “Kapitoil”, and he finds himself in the predicament of owning the rights to a program that could make a few people very, very rich. as the big boss starts pressuring him to sell the program and Karim continues to navigate through his own social awkwardness, we are taken on the capitalist education and social exploration that becomes Karim’s life.

the book is written through a series of Karim’s journal entries and always managed to make me laugh. the end of each entry has a list of new vocabulary words that he learned that day and was anything from slang to business terminology, but always entertaining and enlightening. Karim’s attempts to be social were always hilarious and his tendency to analyze everything made for both highly structured and entertaining reading that served as a brilliant satire on American capitalism.

one other thing that this book does extremely well is to balance the American lifestyle with the Muslim religion. Karim is a faithful Muslim, living in New York City, which obviously carries a lot of weight these days, and though his moral compass is not perfect, he serves to act as the balance between two colliding worlds.

this is one of those books that just thrums with a dry, witty energy that begs to be read and though it isn’t perfect, it is well worth the read. my only complaint was that Karim’s character made everyone else in the book seem rather two dimensional, particularly his boss and coworkers. but, really, altogether, this book was just too much fun to complain. highly recommended!

pattydsf's review against another edition

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I would not have ever read this book without the Morning News' Tournament of Books and it would have been a shame to miss it. Karim Issar comes to the United States to work for an investment company. It starts working on the Y2K problem - when did you last think about that problem?

It turns out that Karim is very good with numbers and is still learning about relationships. Many of the comic turns in this book use his inexperience, but not in a painful way. I am often discomforted by humor that makes people seem inferior. I did not feel that way about Kapitoil.

I would recommend this book to folks who are interested in the intersections between our culture and others. I found it good to look at how our world works through other eyes.

rocketiza's review against another edition

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Beautifully written, highly recommend.

katieparker's review against another edition

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The year is 1999, and Karim Issar has just arrived in New York City from his native Qatar. He’s a “cream of the cream” programmer contracted to work on Schrub Equities’ Y2K project through the end of the year. (Side note: My mom was on the Y2K team for Seafirst Bank. I regrettably dressed as a Y2K bug for Halloween that year. I was 14.) Pretty soon, he starts devising programs that he thinks will be useful to the company, the culmination of which is Kapitoil. After realizing that current events have an effect on oil prices, he writes a program that downloads news articles of the day from the Internet and scans them for words like “terrorism” and “attack,” but also more subtle words like “bitter” and “weary,” which most people don’t consider. It then predicts whether the oil price will go up or down, allowing the company to capitalize on the change. After showing the program to his boss, he finds himself slingshot up near the top of the corporate ladder. Soon he’s dressing in expensive suits, being driven by a chauffeur, and spending time with the company’s CEO, Derek Schrub himself. But how long will it last, and at what cost?

The characterization of Karim throughout the book was really well-done. The story is told through a series of diary entries, which are very “Karim-esque” (a term coined by one of his co-workers, meaning there are grammatical errors common for Karim, since he is foreign). Each entry ends with American slang or words and their meanings that he learned during the course of the entry, such as “Jackass = stupid person; Dan” and “shit-shower-shave = consecutive actions a man performs before a nightclub.” Though I don’t think it’s out-right disclosed, it’s safe to say that Karim has some form of autism. He mentions avoiding eye contact when he was younger, and he is very technical and factual in his writing and speech. He actually reminds me a lot of Alex, the Ukrainian translator in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated, who isn’t autistic, but has the a similarly stilted voice.

I loved Karim’s interactions with his co-worker Rebecca, who was a good foil to his dry, straight-forward personality. The evolution of their relationship, from professional to romantic, was interesting to see unfold. She was understanding and patient with him when few others were (or would be), and I enjoyed seeing what they taught each other about their worlds.

I was going to give this book four stars, but then I couldn’t think of a single bad thing about it, so I bumped it up to five. Highly recommended, especially for those who like Jonathan Safran Foer’s writing.

moonbeammckenna's review against another edition

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adventurous inspiring reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes



lost me a little in the middle but the ending made up for it and more. I didn't know books could have such satisfying foreshadowing without being a murder mystery -- and the characters! Wayne is a professional at showing and not telling. the way he developed the relationships between Karim and Rebecca and Mr Schrub and even Darron and his father was thoroughly and masterfully done -- I can't even describe how well it was written. new favorite author, I think.

mrsthrift's review against another edition

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This is the story of Karim Issar, who comes to the US from Qatar in 1999 to work as a computer programmer for a financial company in NYC. Karim was hired to help with the Y2K problem (heh, remember that?), but he invents a program that uses algorithms based on current events to predict fluctuations in oil commodities -- and invest/sell accordingly to make tons of money.

This book was easy and fun to read, and I enjoyed reading it. But at the end I had this feeling like "my god, was this written by a straight white American dude or WHAT?" I don't know for sure that Teddy Wayne is actually a straight white American dude, I'm just saying that was my perception. It's an enjoyable read, but not profound or deep like I think it was supposed to be. I think some of the ways that the author tries to explore "otherness" are cloying, condescending and outrageous. The "exploration" of "alienation" through the "idiosyncratic narrator" would have been more interesting/effective if it hadn't been entirely based on the racial, language and religious alienation of someone from Qatar in a pretty xenophobic society. Sometimes people just don't get that, though.

Maybe I have more thoughts on this, but I'm rushed. I liked what Sarah Manguso wrote about Kapitoil in the Morning News Tournament of Books here.

shawntowner's review against another edition

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I've found that anything that McSweeneys adds to their McSweeneys recommends list is worth reading, and Kapitoil is no exception. The novel starts off slowly, in fact I was about to give it up as I was getting sick of the repetitive Borat/EiL jokes about immigrants having a comically poor command of the English language. Fortunately, the book picks up when it goes from making fun of people who speak in business textbook language to being a Faustian tale of American capitalism.

The book tells the story of Karim, a Middle Eastern programmer who comes to America to help an investment company deal with the Y2K problem, but who ends up writing a program that uses reports of violence in the Middle East to predict oil futures. The program is a success and Karim is tempted by money, parties, romance, and all the other excitements of 1999 NYC. He is eventually faced with the decision of whether he will should sell his program (and his soul) to American corporate interests, or instead pursue a more lofty goal.

mandraluhana's review against another edition

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funny informative inspiring medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character


infinitejoe's review against another edition

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I read this book because of the 2010 recommendation from Jonathan Franzen in the Daily Beast, which I actually just stumbled across recently.

I really enjoyed this book for its story, but even more so because of the characters that I felt Teddy Wayne developed so well. Karim was extremely likable and I felt really invested in his navigation of a foreign territory, being America in general, and more closely its corporate practices in the financial industry. I also enjoyed watching Rebecca navigate her own foreign territory, namely her relationship with Karim.

I appreciated the underlying theme that in life, things can change you in small, imperceptible ways, and if you let them continue to change you in these ways over a long period of time, you may end up one day realizing you have become a completely different person than you once were, corrupted, and unlikable to both yourself and others. It's how we deal with the small moments as they happen, head on, to hopefully preserve our dignity and sense of self.

Finally, I was also pleased with the end of the book. I have a problem with a certain type of ending to books, and this one was not a disappointment. When I spend considerable time wondering what the future holds for what I have to remember to keep telling myself are fictional characters, I know that the author hooked me effectively.

mrpink44's review against another edition

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My ranking system is 3 stars = worth a read; 4 stars = I would/will read it again; and 5 stars = a classic to be read by future generations.

Ok book, nothing special or earth-shattering. I wouldn't recommend it only because there are so many other good books to read - spent your time with something else.