Forethoughts: Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne

I come to the next novel on my reading list – Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne (Duckworth Publishers (US – Harper Perennial)) – knowing very little about it, or its author. Given that this is a debut novel, that’s probably not surprising, but if you know anything about Rob and RobAroundBooks then you’ll know that this doesn’t bother me, and that I always welcome debut novelists with eager hands and open arms.

Actually it would be wrong for me to say that I know nothing about Kapitoil. I know that since its release in the US in April, this novel has built a firm and fast following that seems to be growing all of the time. I also know that since its release in the UK in July, Kapitoil is a novel that’s been largely ignored. As to why this may be the case, I do not know, but from today I aim to put a change to this, to at least make people aware of the book’s existence in the UK.

Of course to put oneself behind a book that one has yet to read, is a little premature to say the least. However I good reason to believe that Kapitoil may be something a little bit special – a gem hidden in the long grass – and if nothing else I want to find out for myself if this is true. I begin then with my forethoughts on Kapitoil and this I hope should give you some indication as to why I think that Kapitoil is something well worth picking up in the first place. As always I’ll kick things off with the official blurb:

‘Sometimes you do not truly observe something until you study it in reverse’, writes Karim Issar upon arrival to New York City from Qatar in 1999. Fluent in numbers, logic, and business jargon, yet often baffled by human connection, the young financial wizard soon creates a computer program named ‘Kapitoil’ that predicts oil futures and reaps record profits for his company.

At first an introspective loner adrift in New York’s social scenes, he anchors himself to his legendary boss Derek Schrub and to Rebecca, a sensitive, disillusioned colleague. Her influence, and his father’s disapproval of Karim’s Americanization, cause him to question the moral implications of Kapitoil, moving him toward a decision that will determine the course of the rest of his life…

So that’s the synopsis for Kapitoil, and I’ve got admit that at first sight it all looks a bit dull; like one of these boring Wall Street novels that’s full of nothing but corporate talk and money jargon. However, reading between the lines I don’t think that Kapitoil is anything of the sort. Sure there looks to be some degree of corporate element to the novel, but there also looks to be much more.

Personally I don’t see a tale full of corporate ‘yawn’, but rather a story of a man who has been uprooted from his native homeland and plonked, not only into one the most vibrant and populated cities in the world, but also into one of the most competitive financial centres on the planet. It’s clear that the chief protagonist is well educated, and that he has something of a developed knowledge of the Western world, but I still think that the culture shock is going to be a huge one. And I guess that’s the main draw of the novel for me, discovering how a rank outsider fits in to this new, largely unfamiliar world. I may be somewhat presumptuous in thinking that author, Wayne pays anything more than a passing interest in exploring how his main character fits into his new world, but I don’t think I am. Rather, I think this is the main raison d’etre of Kapitoil; well this and perhaps the holding up of a mirror against American corporate business practises, especially in relation to foreign investment/countries.

So I guess now would be a good time to look at the novel’s author, Teddy Wayne. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of information floating around on the man behind the pen. Wayne’s ‘official’ bio at Harper Collins does tells us that he’s a graduate of Harvard and that he’s had a number of his works published in some of the most prestigious newspapers and periodicals. The bio also tells us that Wayne currently lives in New York City (very handy when you’re writing a novel based in New York :)).

What’s surprising for me though, after looking at his photograph (that’s the one on the right there :)), is that Teddy Wayne doesn’t appear to have any Middle Eastern origins (I should have realised that from his name, right? :)). He looks to be American through and through, and if that’s the case – because I may be really wrong about this – then it makes things all the more interesting. It adds weight to my theory that Kapitoil is being used partly as a vehicle for introspective reflection on American corporations; that Karim Issar is being employed as a literary tool to help in Wayne’s exploration. If so, fascinating. If not, I need to stop reading into things so much :).

Of course there always has to be something that initially draws one towards picking up a book, especially when it’s a complete unknown like Kapitoil is to me. And aside from the book’s synopsis there are two further motivations which encouraged me to pick up. The first of course, is the book’s wonderfully creative and eye-catching cover. The creation of ace designer Milan Bozic – Art Director at Harper Collins, there is no denying that the cover art for Kapitoil is something a bit yummy. I love how Bozic has taken one of the key themes of the novel – the creation of a software program that predicts oil futures – and created something wholly original yet wholly relevant to match that theme. The way in which Bozic has blended the silhouetted New York skyline into a single drip of oil really works, especially against such a contrasting background, and when you couple that with the vivid colour that’s been used for the book’s title, this is one book cover that really stands out on the bookstore shelf.

My second motivation for picking up Kapitoil comes from a single snippet of an article found in The Huffington Post. It’s an article written by Anis Shivani and it talks on the subject of post-9/11 novels, and this is the particular snippet that grabbed me:

“I speak in awe of Krol and Wayne, two of the greatest writers of our time, whose books will far outlast the moment. As a fiction writer I am flabbergasted by what they’ve both accomplished. Callisto and Kapitoil are immense and unrepeatable…these two books—especially Kapitoil—are so good, so unimaginably good, that one fails to see what more can be done with the genre.”

Now, cast your mind back to one of my favourite novels of 2009, Callisto by Torsten Krol (Harper Perennial). I loved that novel – especially its main character, Odell Deefus, and here we have Shivani quite clearly holding Callisto and Kapitoil up as being on an equal par with one another. I must admit when I first read about the character of Karim in the synopsis for Kapitoil, Callisto’s Odell Deefus popped into my head, and Shivani comes along and makes a similar comparison. How could I possibly ignore something like that? Well of course, I can’t.

So anyway, I think I’ve said all I can say in my forethoughts for Kapitoil for now, and it all comes down to the reading. It’s a short book so I don’t envisage it taking me too long to get through it, so I’ll back in the next few days with my final afterthoughts. Meantime you can keep up with my reading progress via my Reading Journal and on Twitter.


Duckworth Publishers | July 2010 | £8.99 | PAPERBACK | 304 PP | ISBN: 9780715638941


Harper Perennial | April 2010 | $13.99 | PAPERBACK | 320 PP | ISBN: 9780061873218

Find out more about Teddy Wayne:

A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.

Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. Amy (Twitter: amckiereads)

    I’ve been eying this book too so I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts after reading. Enjoy!

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Page 140 Amy, and so far so good. Wayne has created a wonderfully warming little character in Karim. I hope he stays that way 🙂

  2. Stujallen (Twitter: stujallen)

    look forward to your thoughts on this good sir ,sure the is a wealth of books to come in coming years along these lines ,oil ,war money etc a interesting mix ,all the best stu

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Absolutely guaranteed to be a flood of recession books Stu. I guess authors often write about what they live through.
      Stayed tuned for those afterthoughts. They’re coming up real soon