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Book Review: Das Kapital – A Novel of Love and Money Markets by Viken Berberian

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Watching the morning finance reports at the gym these days, I’ve been holding my breath hoping someone will mention the prophetic genius of Das Kapital: A Novel of Love and Money Markets, fearing that I might fall off the tread-climber if they do. This book is an almost literal blueprint for the ugly dance of today’s market. It is the story of falls of economic theories rarely challenged, of stocks hardly imagined volatile, and of people whose spine never twitches in front of a Bloomberg terminal.

Berberian immediately grasps your attention by his oft heavily-footnoted baroque passages building the story's three main characters through whom, in a resilient manner, he penetrates your daily thought – even if you are not a person of finance or terrorism, or prone to longing for international love.

Wayne is a shrewd, sharply-attired, Wall Street brat who takes for granted his overpriced flat’s cutting edge designer lamps, and is viciously addicted to reading Marx while reaching the apex of profitmaking, daily, at a hedge fund. The Corsican, perhaps the last torchbearer of the Situationist movement, vanquished by the market-foulplay-driven downfall of his native Bustaci timber company, and intent on revolutionizing society to nurture its ailing ecology, collaborates with Wayne in terrorizing world money markets to capitalize on falling prices. Alix, a delectable architecture student in loud Marseille, with quirky habits and a stubborn streak, jumps with equal fervor onto rooftops and into the psyche of Wayne and the Corsican, introducing them to what they both mistakenly consider an ephemeral emotion.

If you are interested in a story about the vortex of love and how towers of stability fall in and for it, then this story, refreshingly not with a clear beginning, middle and end, is for you. Berberian will entice you with his borderline obsessive-compulsive description of the environments and conditions surrounding the conception and demise of this love story between Alix and Wayne, and between the Corsican and Alix. Although the novel is episodic at times, you’ll feel sufficiently enraptured to plow through the fall of money markets, to find the story’s flow once again, and experience the romanticism he delicately showcases.

If you are interested in the tragic goings on of today’s money market and how Marx’s dramatically structured thesis can hold true even while pieces of it fall one theory at a time, then this story is clearly for you as well. Marx believed the laws of capitalism were scientific in nature and could be approached objectively. He identified capitalism as the stage in which profit motives rule and the wealth of the wealthy is protected by law. As such, he predicted a revolution by the proletariat if and when society reached the state of poverty amidst the plenty.

Berberian’s story doesn’t aim to capsize Marx, but it does challenge the formulaic approach to capitalism that leaves no room for the unexpected human or artificial outlier. With his disregard for anything other than his personal portfolio, Wayne is the embodiment of the capitalist bourgeoisie against whom Marx predicts revolution. The Corsican, who travels to New York to avenge the woes of Bustaci, is the embodiment of the proletarian brewing with revolutionary spirit who with a twist of fate forges a partnership with his antithesis Wayne. Collaboratively, Wayne and the Corsican manipulate the bell curve of probability, on which most money market stakeholders cast their judgment, and force the market to crash by wreaking international havoc. While others lose money and scour to protect their funds from the unforeseen volatility, a black swan of sorts, Wayne generates plush returns by selling short.

In a more literary fashion than Nassim Taleb, Berberian gives reason to believe that neither randomness nor volatility, like that of today’s market, can be charted or foreshadowed. Acknowledgment of the unpredictable nature of what is not known, say for example September 11th or any of the plethora of terroristic acts plotted by Wayne and the Corsican, has far greater value than profits projected on the assumptions that cycles repeat and capitalism’s course could be approached objectively.

The beauty of this work of fiction, Berberian’s second following his critically acclaimed The Cyclist, is that alongside a luscious love story, there are moneymaking lessons to be learned, and uncanny parallels to be drawn to today’s markets. Berberian is successful in driving home the message that fragile human emotion and catastrophic larger-than-life events are equal in their ability to completely negate our null hypotheses. At the end of this story, in which love, economic theory, and the human condition embrace as tightly as an award-winning Argentinean tango, in which one misstep could lead to a fall, the reader is left wondering how little it is that we all know about the things we think we do. Fall for this book, even if they don’t mention it on MSNBC tomorrow. Let it happen to you, it already happened to your money market.


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About Yerado Abrahamian

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Nice review, very enjoyable, well-written.

  • Indra Kindler

    The markets see their biggest drop in the last three weeks on Tuesday August 28. Great review.

    A refreshing novel that provides a rare and honest window into the manic world of hedge funds where the uenxpected is to be expected. Nassim Taleb did it in The Black Swan.

    Viken Berberian somehow, and the somehow is highly skilled, muscular writing, captures it in Das Kapital. Nervy prose. I ask myself: is it your review that is prophetic or the novel?

  • Leela Singh

    Berberian’s writing is clean, funny and beautiful, and he has a great eye for nuance.

  • Ian

    To respond to Indra’s comments and without giving the story away, towards the end of the book Wayne is confused as to why the market is moving higher despite his machinations. The unexpected can work both ways, something that is deftly conveyed in the book. To Berberian’s credit (and not Wayne’s who sometimes takes a reductionist approach to things like many of the finance people I work with), Berberian respects the unpredictable side of the market — refreshing to see that he actually knows what he is writing about. Many authentic touches in this wonderful, unpredictable book.

  • Indra kindler

    As I said, there is something prescient about viken berberian’s novel. Most people will not make the connection between violence and the markets. Whether or not Berberian does is somehow beyond the point. There are other meanings in the book, but if you want to focus just on the violence aspect, take
    a look at Iran. Surely it has had a material impact on a number
    of markets, commodities included, so thr plot is not that farfetched.

  • Ian

    You mean Iraq, not Iran, though you are talking about something else. The book looks at non-state actors engaged in violence, not states perpetrating violence, but arguably, yes, there are all types of players in that war and yes it certainly impacts the markets and some of it is
    driven by financial imperatives.

  • Indra Kindler

    Let’s just agree on the fact that his writing is superlative.

  • Ian

    Prophetic. Talk of an airstirke on Iran and the markets continue to unravel. The S&P has lost 20% from its high, Citigroup and Lehman at $16 a share, the credit crisis intact, one year after the publication of this great book.

  • midhun menan

    das kapital book is to revolution father in russia lennin to change the book its improve our economic to change a mind so plese request read this book

  • H. Blankstein

    Today’s bankruptcy announcement by Lehman Brothers made me think of a wonderful line in the opening chapter of Berberian’s satiric novel which all of a sudden does not seem that funny anymore after the S&P has slumped to new lows: “This bi-c- is going down faster than a Ukrainian hooker…” says Wayne. Indeed it is. What I want to know is who is this Viken Berberian and is he still short the market? This should be required reading for all MBAs. Berberian is a friend, I admit.

  • Jay Kie

    I have not seen still the book “Das Kapital: A Novel of Love and Money Markets” however I read very deeply “Das Capital” which was written by Marx. Now, I think the book is also on the topic of money and finance after reading your review. I have decided to see once the book. Nice review you have written.