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The Price of Escape Paperback – April 19, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 218 pages
  • Publisher: Akashic Books; 1 edition (April 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936070928
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936070923
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #334,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A Jewish man flees 1938 Germany only to find a new and unexpected nightmare waiting for him in the sweltering heat of Guatemala in Unger's uneven latest (after Life in the Damn Tropics). WWI vet Samuel Berkow flees Hamburg, washes up in the Guatemalan port town of Puerto Barrios, and gets stuck there before he can make his way to the capital, where he'd intended to meet his cousin. Samuel is overwhelmed by the oddities of the local customs and by those who take advantage of foreigners. Unger's sharp prose deftly conveys Samuel's frustrations and confusions as he encounters characters like a troublesome dwarf, a volatile American fruit company manager, a crazed ex-priest, and a friendly telegraph operator who all offer help with one hand but uncertainty with the other. 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. (May)
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David Unger's tale utterly seduces with its mix of the exotic and the familiar. A man twists and turns, becoming trapped in a place where folks -- with a few vital exceptions -- would as soon kill him as release him from their grasp. The only way out is forward, as it is for us all.
Nancy Wigston is a frequent contributor to the Toronto Star.

"Unger does a great job with fish-out-of-water situations, as [protagonist] Samuel's travails--sometimes Kafkaesque, sometimes Laurel and Hardy--nicely pit his timidity against his growing desperation." --Publishers Weekly

Evoking both Kafka and Conrad, Unger's character study of a broken man in a culture broken by a ravenous corporation makes compelling reading. --Booklist

More About the Author

David Unger was bestowed Guatemala's Miguel Angel Asturias National Prize in Literature in 2014 for lifetime achievement--the first author writing exclusively in English to win a major Latin American literature award. He is the author of The Mastermind (Akashic Books, 2015), El precio de la fuga (F y G Editores, Guatemala, November 2013) La Casita (CIDCLI, Mexico, 2012), The Price of Escape (Akashic Books, 2011), Para mi, eres divina (Random House Mondadori, Mexico, 2011), Ni chicha, ni limonada (F & G Editores, Guatemala, 2009; Recorded Books, 2010), Life in the Damn Tropics (Wisconsin University Press, Plaza y Janes (Mexico, 2004), Locus Press (Taiwan, 2007)), and In My Eyes, You Are Beautiful. He has translated sixteen books into English, including the work of Nicanor Parra, Silvia Molina, Elena Garro, Barbara Jacobs, Mario Benedetti, Rigoberta Menchu. La Casita is also available as a download through I-Tunes. He lives in New York City

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Arnold on April 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
The Price of Escape starts off in WWII Germany but spends most of it's time in a wonderfully described, almost hauntingly foreign, hot, and intimidating port city of Guatemala. The setting is instantly both unfamiliar and familiar, especially to anyone who has ever walked out of an airport or off a bus in a bustling developing world town. The novel is an account of Samuel Berkow's first 3 days of exile or escape, and the characters he encounters along the way are totally captivating. The scheming dwarf, raging expat, and others I won't mention at the risk of ruining some of the unexpected twists and turns have stuck with me for weeks after finishing this novel. A really great read!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By rose8 on April 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
Excellent read! Having enjoyed David Unger's previous novel, I was pleased to see that his new novel lived up to my expectations. The story takes place in 3 short days and I felt as if I was reading the novel in real time. We follow the struggle of an uprooted man thrown into a world he doesn't know how to navigate. Samuel Berkow struggles to gain his bearings upon arrival in Guatemala by applying his ideas of respect and dignity brought over with him from Germany, which usually don't work in the seedy port town of Puerto Barrios. Unger captured the helplessness and consequent self-doubt and self-reflection of being thrust into a new culture. Unger touched on such universal emotions that the story of a German Jewish man escaping Nazi Germany to land in Guatemala is relevant and identifiable to everyone. Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Evelyn A. Getchell TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 8, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What is the personal cost of freedom? What is the price one must pay to be liberated from the forces that immure the body, heart, mind and soul?

These are crucial questions in the story of Samuel Berkow, a German Jew who is fortunate enough to narrowly escape Nazi Germany in 1938.

Before Kristallnacht, Samuel Berkow was a well-to-do man of privilege, a cultured gentleman, a well dressed dandy, a successful German businessman. He was young at the time, about thirty seven, a German veteran of the Great War, still handsome but unmarried. His wife had abandoned him. Her departure was an emotional blow for Samuel. Then there were rumors of deportations and concentration camps. Jews were being murdered in the streets. No Jew was safe. Those Jews with the foresight and the means manage emigration and escape. Samuel's devoted uncle arranges Samuel's escape...a safe, comfortable passage out of Germany via an 8,000 mile sea voyage to the New World, destination: a new life in Latin America, in Guatemala City. It is a life altering journey for Samuel that will begin not in Hamburg, Germany, but in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, where Samuel's first step off the tramp steamer is unsteady and unsure... literally and metaphorically. It is a foreboding first step into the New World.

It is at this point in the narrative arc that the dramatic tension in Samuel's story intensifies. The Price of Escape is less about a young Jewish man's escape from Nazi Germany than it is a desperate man's escape from a cursed Guatemalan port town. Puerto Barrios proves to be yet another evil force which captures Samuel in its vortex.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By THE PRESS on May 27, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are many people who sit and pore over books they love, trying to soak them in letter by letter, but I am not one of those people. If I like a book, I read it fast, and thus if a book is good, I can tell by the speed with which I read it. The Price of Escape is truly a good book, and I read it in about 7 hours.

On the surface it's a travel story, detailing two days in the life of a German Jewish man who flees to Guatemala during the late 1930s. His absurd experiences in Puerto Barrios - a sweltering cesspool of humanity - parallel a disjointed account of his personal history, and how he has become the helpless half-ling caught in the grips of a caribbean town's murky underbelly. I read this novel in Italy, which felt appropriate since Samuel's utter displacement is an extreme version of what I felt trying to deal with Rome. Irritating rules and confusing processes that seem simple, unfriendly people who act friendly, hunger... Well, not worth comparing, but if you feel displaced where you read the book, it's even easier to step into Samuel's skin. The novel reads like a strange psychedelic carnival ride, or better, a humid dream in which you're chasing something but it feels like you're running through water and then what you're chasing keeps changing shape right as you try to grab it. Some reviews of this novel have drawn comparisons with the magical realism found in many twentieth century Latin American novels, but I think the feel of this book is more "absurdist" or noir than literally magical. Really weird things happen, but they're not outright supernatural, and ultimately this blurring of reality without becoming physically surreal is what makes them even harder for the characters to rationalize.
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