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)
Reviewed on: 02/14/2011 Release date: 04/01/2011 Genre: Fiction
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