Cover image for The cyclist : a novel
The cyclist : a novel
Berberian, Viken.
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Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2002]

Physical Description:
189 pages ; 23 cm
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The cryptic narrator of The Cyclist is a young trainee of the Academy, a terrorist group head-quartered somewhere in the present-day Middle East. Combining surrealism, tragedy, terror, and humor, the story explores the workings of the terrorist mind.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The young narrator of this first novel is a terrorist who intends to murder civilians, and his often irreverent and sometimes funny story is an exploration, not an endorsement, of terror. He belongs to the Academy, a radical organization of shifting and inconsistent political affiliations. His job is to deliver a bomb by bicycle to a hotel. But for most of the story, he is completely incapacitated, having suffered a head injury on his bike. He is obsessed with food but is fed only through an IV. He despises his nurse but lacks the physical strength to cause her trouble. All this adds up to a fascinating metaphor for terrorists' motives; having seen the world of excess, glimpsed its luxuries, they are unable to find a seat at the table and come to revile that world and seek to destroy it. Sadly, the rich symbolism here doesn't make up for a threadbare plot and inconsistent tone. Still, the world gropes for answers in the wake of September 11, and this eccentric novel will win a readership. --John Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

A terrorist prepares to attack a Beirut hotel in Berberian's first novel, a thinly plotted but stylistically alluring character study that begins with the anonymous narrator laid up in a hospital after being clocked by a Mercedes while riding his bike. As his girlfriend, Ghaemi Basmati, helps nurse him back to health, he ponders the ultimate ride he will soon take to a seaside hotel with a backpack full of plastic explosives. He also recalls his terrorist training at "the Academy," where the attack was referred to as a "baby," terminology that becomes more ironic when the cyclist learns that Basmati is pregnant with his child. Throughout his musings, though, the narrator seems as obsessed with food as he is with the success of his mission, meals and delicacies functioning as both metaphor and sustenance as he flashes back through his life. The final attack takes place during a bicycle race, and while the plan is for the narrator to survive, he imperils both himself and the mission by getting caught up in the race. Berberian is a thoughtful writer, delivering a compelling psychological portrait, one that will probably earn him an audience based on the public's increased interest in terrorism. But the story peters out as Berberian tries to stretch the plot: in many respects the book might have worked better had it been kept to novella length. That quibble aside, there's enough meat on the bones here to leave readers curious about Berberian's future efforts. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (Mar. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A nameless terrorist narrator begins this first novel from his hospital bed, offering us only his "fractured mind: an imperfect mosaic of memory and mishap." Berberian's repetition of passages reflects the structure of the story: it is like the tires of a bicycle with the same worn spots rolling across different ground and spinning through different rhythms. We ride along with the character as he makes his final, essential decision. Although the narrative is especially shaky at the start, threatening to unseat the reader, it finishes with a burst of power. Some of the similes also feel forced, and the cryptic narrative occasionally frustrates. Finally, however, this is a story about a character who is as irresistible as the figs and pomegranate juice that he describes in such delectable detail. Eloquent passages easily propel the reader through the opening trouble spots. Recommended for all fiction collections. Lyle D. Rosdahl, San Antonio P.L., TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Food, terrorism, and cycling are the main ingredients in this vivid debut novel set somewhere in the Middle East. As the unnamed narrator is recovering from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident, he reveals how he has come to this point in his young life, and what he still must do. Having been recruited into a terrorist organization called the "Academy," he has spent the past several months training for a deadly mission. Using an upcoming bike race as cover, the narrator is to ride to a local luxury hotel and deliver a bomb, which will take hundreds of innocent lives. Using the rich and exotic foods of the Middle East as metaphors for everything from sex to hand grenades to dismembered bodies, Berberian highlights the dichotomy of this troubled land at once both steeped in culture and simmering with violence. The complexity of the protagonist's personality is at times troubling; he can speak with such passion and longing for a plate of baba ghannooj or a ripe pomegranate, yet with only coldness and detachment when describing the violence and death he is soon to rain down on the unsuspecting. This book is sure to be a topic for conversation and debate.-James O. Cahill, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.