David Unger’s The Mastermind (Akashic Books, Apr. paperback original) is a novel loosely based on the hard-to-believe true story of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a Guatemalan attorney, who, in 2009, planned his own assassination, having himself shot to death while riding his bike and leaving behind a video accusing Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom of his murder. Why would someone do such a thing?
That’s a very good question, Unger says, explaining that to understand the answer it is necessary to understand the corruption that exists in Guatemala. This is what The Mastermind sets out to do as it weaves a love story between a fictional Rosenberg character and the woman he loves. The novel spans more than five decades and exposes the day-to-day effects on people attempting to lead normal lives in one of the most violent and corrupt countries in the world.
Inspired by a 2011 New Yorker article about the Rosenberg case by reporter David Grann, Unger used the template of a crime novel to reveal the inner mechanism of corruption. “What got me going was that everyone kept saying the Rosenberg case was a situation in which reality surpassed fiction. I don’t believe that. Also, I had never written a book that dealt with the present-day situation in Guatemala. Those were the two challenges I faced. I wanted to explore the case on my own, using what I know about the ruling classes and the rest of the population. Most of all, I wanted to write a good, solid story incorporating unexpected twists, leaving readers more informed about themselves and the social and cultural complexity of a country not that different in many ways from the United States.”
Unger was born in Guatemala and learned Spanish as his first language. He was awarded his country’s prestigious Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature for Lifetime Achievement in 2014. A prolific writer with four earlier novels to his credit, along with short stories and essays, he has translated 14 books from Spanish into English (though never his own; he writes exclusively in English) and presented four times at the Miami Book Fair, both in the Spanish and English program. A longtime resident of New York, he is currently the director of the City College of New York’s Publishing Certificate Program, and he’s also the International Representative for the Guadalajara International Book Fair.
Unger signs copies of his book today, 3 p.m., at Akashic’s booth (B369) in “The Blend” coffee shop space. Akashic is also giving away finished copies throughout the show.
This article appeared in the May 12, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.