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From Barnes & NobleBarnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
With The Cyclist, Viken Berberian has created a disturbing, brilliant novel: the story of a terrorist with a gourmet's palate and a mission to use a bicycle race in Lebanon as a ruse for an insidious, international bombing conspiracy. Our nameless protagonist, the eponymous "cyclist," shares with readers his obsession with Yemeni chicken soup, his allegiance to the mysterious "Academy" -- a terrorist organization dedicated to an unspecified cause -- and his love for an attractive co-conspirator, Ghaemi. But what he most tantalizingly refuses to divulge is why he must deliver "the baby" to the Summerland Hotel -- and whether or not he's actually going to go through with his absurd mission.
Berberian's antihero meditates inventively not on international politics but on the inexhaustible pleasures of a well-prepared meal. The members of his terrorist cell oblige his fixation, using "potatoes" and "peppers" as code words for weapons. And when he lands in the hospital after a training accident, his compatriots bring him lentil stew, in hope that the aroma will provide him the strength to continue.
Berberian's whimsical and engaging narrator is a Nabokovian figure transplanted to 21st-century Beirut: easy to love but not completely trustworthy. And as the cyclist takes the explosive "baby" in hand for the climactic race, there's no telling whom he's going to betray. In crafting this ornate and mesmerizing puzzler, Berberian offers up great reading pleasure wrapped in a disconcerting package. Readers may come for the exotic meal, but it's the fascinating host who won't soon be forgotten. (Spring 2002 Selection)