LIFE IN THE DAMN TROPICS

David Unger, Author . Syracuse Univ. $34.95 (301p) ISBN 978-0-8156-0737-3

Three Jewish brothers struggle to keep their family's business ventures alive through a period of political unrest and upheaval in Unger's satisfying debut novel, set in Guatemala in the early 1980s. Marcos Eltaleph is the first-person narrator, a bored former playboy in his early 50s who finally discovers a sense of direction when his gorgeous new girlfriend, Esperanza, talks him into opening a nightclub. At first their new venture is a wild success, but dark clouds begin to gather in the background when the family's factories start to struggle and Marcos's brothers, Aaron and David, are forced to lay off Marcos from his token position in the company. The real troubles begin when Marcos's nightclub benefactor, a slick local military figure named Rafael Mendoza, uses Esperanza's and Marcos's financial difficulties to force them to turn the club into a watering hole for local servicemen. Marco suspects military foul play when Mendoza and his buddies begin holding private meetings there; eavesdropping on one of their sessions, Marcos watches as their plot against the local government is interrupted by an attack. Mendoza is killed and Marcos's brother Aaron, a prominent Jewish community leader involved in the subterfuge, is also shot. Unger puts his unique setting to good use as he layers his unusual story line, building the suspense despite some off-key passages in which Marcos complains unremittingly about getting old. The resolution features plenty of interesting twists and turns, but it's the portrayal of Latin American customs and Jewish values, as well as the exploration of the gray area in between, where Marcos and his brothers find themselves, that makes this book worth reading. (May)

Forecast:Fans of political intrigue will enjoy this title, which straddles literary and commercial fiction to good effect, but the hefty price tag will deter browsers.

Reviewed on: 04/22/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 301 pages - 978-0-299-20054-1
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