By Stacey Donohue, Humanities
You probably haven’t heard of this book yet, but you will. It’s already on Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels for 2010. It’s been translated into French. And Jonathan Franzen himself (whose latest novel, Freedom, I highly recommend for its domestic realism mixed with philosophical musings on the vagaries of free choice) chose it as one of the 4 best novels of the year. Here is Franzen’s pithy review:
“A young man from the boonies comes to New York City to make his fortune. It’s an old story, but here the boonies are the Middle East, and the young man is an earnestly self-improving Muslim math whiz who goes to work for a private-equity firm shortly before the 9/11 attacks. He’s a type—the nerdy and needy young immigrant—that we’re all familiar with but that no other writer, as far as I know, has invented such a funny and compelling voice and story for. The novel unfolds as a series of diary entries, each ending with a list of American vocabulary words, and it does what novels can do better than any other art form: Show us a familiar world through unfamiliar eyes.”
Karim Issar, a native of Qatar, is hired in 1999 to do computer security grunt work by a firm in New York. He uses his financial acumen to create a program that predicts oil futures, which makes the company rich, and gives Karim a private office as well as the chance to make lots of money.
But it’s not all computers and futures. The appeal of the story for me was in the moral dilemma that Karim faces when he recognizes the global repercussions of his computer program, and in his evolving Americanization. Karim’s demeanor and response to American social and business culture of New York City months before the millennium (think of Spock’s “fascinating” in reaction to something truly odd about earthlings) made me laugh out loud. Here is Karim reflecting on a session in bed with his co-worker: “I paid attention to which actions produced no effect and which yielded a net gain.”
A Novel Idea…Read Together kicks off on April 10, 2011 with three weeks of free cultural programs, book discussions, films, food tastings, music, and art – and will culminate with author Teddy Wayne visiting Central Oregon April 28 – 30.