A review by katieparker
Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne


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.