David Unger returned to his native Guatemala for his new novel, The Price of Escape.
The book spans three days in the life of a Samuel Berkow, a Jewish man who flees Nazi Germany in 1938 and heads to Guatamala where his cousin Heinrich lives.
He arrives in the port town of Puerto Barrios and intends to make his way to capital where cousin Heinrich awaits but he’s overwhelmed by the seedy characters who want to “help” him get to where he’s going.
Samuel confronts an angry dwarf, a volatile fruit company manager, petty thieves, prostitutes and a crazy defrocked priest. Oh, it seems there are some anti-Semites thrown in there as well.
Somewhere along the line, Samuel commits an act he didn’t know he was capable of. And that’s where Publisher’s Weekly says Unger took the story in a strange direction:
His departure repeatedly stymied, Samuel becomes increasingly desperate until he nonsensically commits a crime that both threatens to ruin him and sets the book on the path toward a disappointing denouement. But Unger does a great job with fish-out-of-water situations, as Samuel’s travails—sometimes Kafkaesque, sometimes Laurel and Hardy—nicely pit his timidity against his growing desperation.
Personally, the mention of Kafka peeks my interest but I can see how it can lead to a ‘I’m-not-so-sure-about-this’ moment for a reader. But, from what I’ve seen in the Publisher’s Weekly review and the other reader comments, it looks like Unger pulled it off. Looks like I’ll have to find out for myself at some point.