One of the nice things about owning your own library is collecting books in which you’re interested, then reading them at your leisure. And, I might add, when you’e in the proper frame of mind for a particular book. You may have experienced this, as I have: you begin a book and get 50, 60 pages in and you’re just not getting interested. But try it again at a later date and you just love it. So the bottom line is to have some unread books on your shelves so you’re prepared for any contingency.
Such was the case for me with The Cyclist by Viken Berberian. Several themes intensified interest in all things cycling – some reminding me of my own just-published bicycling novel, Bridge Across the Ocean, it was time to pull Berberian off the shelf and give it another go.
- Written in the first person, Berberian’s story begins with a cyclist lying in a hospital bed, unfolding why he’s there quite slowly. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you he was hit by a car while riding his bike, as is the character Luke in my novel, who is killed by a hit-and-run driver on the first page.
- One’s curiosity is aroused as much by this cyclist’s plight as by his girlfriend Ghaemi’s ministrations: “Ghaemi leans over me. Her fingers are velvet spiders, little ballerinas in gossamer tutus traipsing around a living statue.” Wow, talk about evocative. This guy can write. I, too, sought to describe the romantic relationship between my two main characters, Jed Smith and Jung-Shan Lai, with a deft touch on my keyboard.
- Berberian’s novel is set in a Middle Eastern country and has much to do with food. I think it would be proper to say the unnamed narrator is a gourmand who simply loves to eat . . . so maybe he’s an epicurean. In my novel three good ol’ American boys travel to Taiwan, where they dine on the most delicious Chinese foods–a far cry from the Chinese retaurant they frequent back home in Nashua, New Hampshire. Their palates will never be the same.
- There is a clear and present danger underlying Berberian’s story, shaping the plots of both his novel and mine. In my novel, that danger is posed by agents of business espionage, out to steal the Americans’ intellectual property. In Berberian’s novel, the danger centers on a terrorist bombing plot which may or may not involve our main character. What makes that more interesting, at least in its scholarly aspects, is learning that the novel was published just months after the 2001 – 9/11 – the terrorist bombings of New York’s World Trade Center buildings perpetrated by Al-Qaeda. Of course we now know that America’s clear and present dangers from radical Islamic terrorists had been known for years, perhaps dating back to 1993 or even earlier. Now, I certainly don’t think there is any correlation between the novel (or its author) and the 9/11 event, but reading the book during the 20th anniversary of the attack this year certainly brought a unique depth of focus and interest to my reading of The Cyclist.