OVAL is a deeply imaginative work of literary fiction that reflects the way Berlin has changed and paints a portrait of this culture-capital today and soon. In the near future, a dire lack of housing afflicts Berlin, where buildings are being flipped in the name of “sustainability,” but only serve to make the city unaffordable. A young German-American couple, Anja and Louis, have moved into an experimental eco-community on an artificial mountain, The Berg, in the urban center—yet another “eco-friendly” initiative run by a corporation called Finster. They’re offered a home rent-free in exchange for keeping quiet about the seriously malfunctioning infrastructure of the experimental house.

But when Louis’ mother suddenly dies, the couple’s frustrations with Finster are thrown into relief. After Louis returns to Berlin from the funeral, Anja is convinced he has changed. He becomes newly idealistic, throwing himself into a secret project at the NGO where he works. Anja is horrified to discover what Louis has invented: a pill called Oval that artificially induces empathy in the user. Louis is certain that if he can introduce the drug into the Berlin club scene, he can unlock latent generosity within the culture class and finally remedy the income disparity that has made Berlin so unlivable. Speculative fiction in line with Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story and Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne, this memorable debut styles and recreates the city, prompting us to consider an unsettling and yet all-too-plausible future in which imminent change becomes undeniable.


Elvia Wilk is a writer and editor living in New York and Berlin. She contributes to publications like Frieze, Artforum, Metropolis, Mousse, Flash Art, Art in America, and Die Zeit. She is currently a contributing editor at Rhizome and e-flux journal, and is finishing a masters while teaching at the New School.