22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Viken Berberian

Portrait Viken Berberian
© Ulf Andersen

Viken Berberian was born in Beirut in 1966 and grew up on a street called Zokak-el blot, which means the cobbled alley. He moved to Los Angeles in December of 1975, eight months after the start of the Lebanese civil war. Berberian completed graduate studies at Columbia University and the London School of Economics and began work on his debut novel in New York in 1996.

His first novel, »The Cyclist«, was published six months after 9/11 and explores the thoughts of a sybaritic would-be suicide bomber carrying a bomb on a bicycle. In the course of fulfilling his mission, he is distracted by a number of worldly pleasures, namely food, his secret vice. Berberian combines biting humor and stylistic flare to tell a provocative story about freedom and violence. The novel sparked controversy among literary critics due to its release date in the months following 9/11. The »Virginia Quarterly« wrote: »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.« The »New York Times« magazine Year in Ideas issue (2002) categorized the novel as belonging to the »hysterical realism« genre similar to the works or Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, and Zadie Smith; but what distinguishes Berberian’s work is its sharp reportorial language and experiential content. The empirical coexists with the imagined. Berberian’s second novel, »Das Kapital: A novel of love and money markets« (2007) was published a year before the Great Recession and the subprime crisis. At the center of the novel is a Wall Street trader who profits from market downdrafts triggered by pandemic, terror and war. The language in the book is partly drawn from the time Berberian spent as a financial reporter and researcher at a New York hedge fund. Critics praised the novel for satirizing the demi-gods of Wall Street with language that is by turns lyrical and lacerating.

In 2017, Actes Sud published »La Structure est pourrie, camarade«, a graphic novel written by Berberian and illustrated by Yann Kebbi. The manuscript was translated (by Christophe Claro) from English, and in 2019, Fantagraphics published it under its original title, »The Structure is Rotten, Comrade«. A German edition, »Marode Substanz, Genosse!«, appeared in 2020. The »Washington Post« praised the satire about architecture, failed ambition, and civil unrest, as among »the best graphic novels, memoirs and story collections of 2019 […] that combine uncommon originality, plotting, and artwork«. Berberian’s essays and fiction have appeared in »The New York Review of Books«, »Bomb«, »The New York Times«, »Foreign Affairs«, and »Granta«.