Viken Berberian

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Viken Berberian
Viken Berberian
Occupation Novelist
Alma mater Columbia University, London School of Economics
Period 2002-present
Genre Literary fiction
Notable works Das Kapital, The Cyclist, The Structure is Rotten, Comrade
Notable awards Centre national du livre
Spouse Garine Torossian[1]

Viken Berberian is a writer[2] and essayist whose works rely on satire and defy easy categorization.[3][4][5] Berberian's fiction and essays have been published in the New York Times,[6] Bomb, le Monde Diplomatique,[7] the International Herald Tribune,[8] the Financial Times, Editions Inculte, (French),[9] The Believer,[10] and the Los Angeles Times. His novels have been translated to French, Hebrew, Italian[11] and Dutch. They are marked by keen wit and a sense of economic and political injustice.


Berberian was raised in an Armenian-speaking household in Beirut. The family moved to Los Angeles at the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, and this experience helped shape his first novel, The Cyclist. His second novel, Das Kapital, which he has described as falling somewhere between Groucho Marx and Karl Marx, was influenced by his work in the financial industry. He has graduate degrees from Columbia University and the London School of Economics (LSE).[12] Berberian and his family have lived in Paris, Marseilles, Yerevan, New York City and Montréal.

Awards and honors[edit]

Berberian's first novel, The Cyclist, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection.[13] He has received recognition from the Centre national du livre (CNL) in France (2007),[14] the William Saroyan award for international writing at Stanford University (short-list, 2003), the Soros Foundations (2013), and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (2015).

Critical recognition[edit]

The Cyclist was published six months after 9/11 and was widely reviewed.[15] It deals with the thoughts of a nameless suicide bomber on a mission to use a bicycle race in Lebanon as a ruse for an insidious, international bombing conspiracy. The protagonist, the eponymous "cyclist," shares with readers his obsession with food. In the Boston Globe, Liza Weisstuch described the book as a "stunning debut...Throughout, Berberian heaps on profound and frequently witty insight into often unexplored territory...It's a tantalizing trip for the senses that also challenges the sensibilities.[16]

On January 1, 2002, Kirkus Reviews wrote: "First-novelist Berberian, a New Yorker, has somehow—the somehow is actually highly skilled writing— managed to create a believable world in the mind of a young man about to end the lives of hundreds of innocents in what can no longer be called an unbelievable act...Deeply creepy, funny and perfectly timed."[17] The novel sparked controversy for its genre and subject matter. In its 2002, Year in Ideas issue, Daniel Zalewski of the New York Times Magazine grouped Berberian, Zadie Smith, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace under the "hysterical realism" banner.[18] Commenting on Berberian's style, Colin Walters wrote in the Washington Times that "despite its comparative brevity, The Cyclist is not a quick read, if only because the narrative doubles back on itself so much as it does, somewhat in the manner of the French nouveau roman a half-century ago...This is an odd little book, different."[19] The Believer magazine described him as a "risk-taker who allows his imagination free rein."[5] In its autumn 2002 issue, the Virginia Quarterly Review commented: "Very few authors have attempted a narrative portrayal concerning the relationship of a terrorist to the act of terror he feels compelled to commit. In his first novel, Viken Berberian masterfully tackles this notion."[20]

"Das Kapital: a novel of love & money markets" was published by Editions Gallmeister (France, 2009)[21] and Simon & Schuster (United States, 2007), more than a year before the subprime crisis. It tells the story of a trader trying to profit from market declines. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "No, this isn't a new translation of Marx's obtuse and history altering tome, but a slim, impeccably cool new novel...Berberian juxtaposes the cold, profit-driven trading environment of Wall Street, with the lush antiquated calm of Marseille, France. [22] Das Kapital "emblematizes the existential soul of the investment industry in the new millennium. Its protagonist, Wayne, is an unscrupulous, legendary short seller... Berberian’s real zest is for viciously satirizing the demigods of Wall Street with self-conscious language that is by turns lyrical and lacerating."[3] Das Kapital is, as the title would suggest, both an homage and a ruthlessly funny take-down of Karl Marx's exhaustive, unfinished analysis of the capitalist system. It "captures financial lingo with hilarious panache."[23]

In her 2013 essay, "Writing Energy Security after 9/11: Oil, Narrative, and Globalization," Georgiana Banita of Universität Bamberg noted: "The juxtaposition of finance jargon and poetic language was pioneered by Viken Berberian’s Das Kapital: a novel of love and money markets, which is doubly impressive in its ability to predict the financial crisis (the book appeared in 2007) and its insight, deeper than Wayne’s, into why Karl Marx’s Das Kapital is especially useful as a shorthand for the entwinement of finance, social relations, and globalization in the twilight of the American empire."[24]

In June 2014, Stipe Grgas, Chair of the American Studies Program, University of Zagreb, noted: "If people in American Studies had paid more heed to writers such as Don DeLillo, they would have had to take cognizance of the fact that DeLillo chose to title the last section of his novel Underworld (1998) Das Kapital. ...Viken Berberian’s later novel, Das Kapital, only substantiates the claim that writers have been more perceptive of what was happening in the United States than those for whom the polity is the object of professional work."[25]

In February 2017, Berberian and French illustrator Yann Kebbi published a graphic novel, "The Structure is Rotten, Comrade", (Editions Actes Sud) under the French title, "La Structure est Pourrie, Camarade." The 336-page book set in Moscow, Yerevan and Paris, describes the story of an architect bent on destroying the collective memory of a city. The satirical book received praise in Le Monde by Mathias Enard as "more than a parody of conquering architecture... full of violence and hilarious humor..."[26]


  1. ^ Gros, Emmanuel (April 2013). "Viken Berberian interview". Literature Across Frontiers. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  2. ^ Rakoff, Joanna Smith (March–April 2002). "First: The Brutal Lyricism of Viken Berberian". Poets & Writers. Poets & Writers. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Feinberg, Phyllis (28 July 2011). "Pulp Finance". The Investment Professional. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  4. ^ "Das Kapital: A Novel of Love and Money Markets". 2007-04-16. 
  5. ^ a b "UNDERAPPRECIATED IN 2002*". The Believer. 2003-03-03. 
  6. ^ Berberian, Viken (2003-07-03). "No Remembrance Of the Things They Passed - New York Times". Retrieved 2012-02-18. 
  7. ^ Berberian, Viken (2008-02-03). "The Consolidated Republic of Nowhere - Le Monde diplomatique - English edition". Retrieved 2012-02-18. 
  8. ^ Berberian, Viken (2007-03-07). "Meanwhile: Where did all that money go? - The New York Times". Retrieved 2012-02-18. 
  9. ^ Berberian, Viken (2009-04-15). "Revue Inculte (Français)". Retrieved 2013-02-14. 
  10. ^ Berberian, Viken (2013-09-05). "Hello Revolution". The Believer/. Retrieved 2013-10-15. 
  11. ^ "Italian publisher Minimum Fax homepage". 2007-02-02. Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  12. ^ Gros, Emmanuel (April 2013). "Viken Berberian interview". Literature Across Frontiers. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  13. ^ "Discover Great New Writers: 2002 Discover Award Archive - Barnes & Noble". 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2012-02-18. 
  14. ^ "CNL French Ministry of Culture" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-05-24. 
  15. ^ "The Cyclist". Simon & Schuster Publishers. Retrieved 2012-02-25. 
  16. ^ Weisstuch, Liza (August 18, 2002). "When Terrorism And Tahini Mix". The Boston Globe (article available via Highbeam). Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  17. ^ "Kirkus Reviews". 2002-01-01. Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  18. ^ Zalewski, Daniel (2002-12-15). "New York Times Magazine". Retrieved 2012-12-15. 
  19. ^ Walters, Colin (February 24, 2002). "Terror studies, with love and apricots: The Cyclist by Viken Berberian". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  20. ^ "Notes on Current Books, Autumn 2002". The Virginia Quarterly Review. Autumn 2002. Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  21. ^ "French publisher Editions Gallmeister homepage". 2009. Retrieved 2014-05-08. 
  22. ^ Leone, Michael (2007-06-18). "REVIEW / Wall Street trader creates havoc and profits, then falls in love". 
  23. ^ Wilson-Goldie, Kaelen (2007-07-10). "The Daily Star". Retrieved 2014-05-13. 
  24. ^ Banita, Georgiana (2013). "Beyond 9/11: Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Twenty-First Century US American Culture". Writing Energy Security after 9/11: Oil, Narrative, and Globalization. Lang, Frankfurt. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  25. ^ Grgas, Stripe (June 2014). "On Violence". [sic] - Journal of Literature, Culture and Literary Translation, University of Zagreb, Croatia, No. 2, Year 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2015. 
  26. ^ "Berberian est Kebbi Cassent la Baraque". Le Monde. Retrieved 4 February 2017. 

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