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The Mastermind


Based on a true, ripped-from-the-headlines story, a voyage into the noir heart of present-day Guatemala.

$15.95 $11.96

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What people are saying…

“The corruption and hopelessness of modern Guatemalan politics interfere in the life of a womanizing lawyer in this engaging novel . . . Through the lens of Guillermo’s doomed relationship, Unger successfully evokes the tragedy and futility of life in Guatemala in a raw and unforgettable novel.”
Publishers Weekly

“This novel by Guatemalan-born Unger (The Price of Escape, 2011) offers a compelling portrait of a country shattered by government corruption, civil war, mass murder, drug cartels, ordinary street crime, inequality, desperate poverty, and even the effects of globalization. . . . The rich but tragic sense of place Unger develops in this intriguing literary thriller will appeal to lovers of international crime fiction.”

“Unger bases his latest novel on the true story of a Guatemalan lawyer who planned his own murder in 2009, fleshing out the story with healthy shots of sex and corruption. . . . The political elements in Unger’s story become more gripping through the eyes of his flawed protagonist. He’s especially good at subtly shifting the tone of the narrative so that danger signs build up around Guillermo before either he or the reader realizes.”
Kirkus Reviews

The Mastermind teems with the pulse of daily life in the tropics: the sights and sounds, the smells and tastes. He takes millionaires, whores, provocateurs, hit men, bankers with deep pockets, and political agendas, and weaves them into a dazzling tapestry. What befalls those driven by hubris—the writing on the wall, a fall from the heights to the depths—are part of the pattern, the biblical tales of warning, the consequences that cannot be avoided . . . Unger is the poet of his complicated homeland . . . How fortunate we are that when Unger speaks for them, his words soar.”
American Book Review

“Unger has given us not just a riveting portrait of a bizarre series of events, but a window onto the ethical challenges we all face.”
Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas

“This novel contains so much background and capable storytelling that readers are likely to be blown away by the rich depths of David Unger’s writing. This is a book that pulls no punches . . . This is a compelling story that can easily be read in a single sitting. And, as in any good mystery, when things go wrong, the novel becomes that much more interesting. Even for readers with no interest in Guatemala per se, this is one worth reading for the sheer joy of the writing itself.”
Reviewing the Evidence

“An intriguing thriller with a fantastical ending. This is a good piece of historical fiction.”
Book Haunt

“A reimagined account of this stranger-than-fiction tale, spun as a love-story and vivid account of the corruption permeating Guatemalan politics . . . Definitely recommended.”

“Based on a true story, The Mastermind is a tense political thriller about a successful Guatemalan lawyer whose life takes a strange turn when a failed affair leads to his faking his own death and implicating the government. Unger’s searing political criticism blends with gripping real-life details to sketch an unforgettable picture of modern Guatemalan society.”
World Literature Today

“In The Mastermind, David Unger’s compelling antihero reminds us of the effects of privilege and corruption, and how that deadly combo can spill from the public to the private sphere. Unger’s Guillermo Rosensweig is on a hallucinatory journey in which everything seems to go right until it goes terribly, terribly wrong. I couldn’t put this down.”
—Achy Obejas, author of Ruins

“In his new novel, David Unger offers us an insider’s guide to war-torn Guatemala and its unforgiving dynamics of power and class. Swaggering, visceral, and sharply astute, The Mastermind is a riveting account of one man’s high-stakes journey to self-reckoning.”
—Cristina García, author of King of Cuba

“David Unger has taken one of the strangest, most sinister affairs in Guatemalan history and, through the power of his imagination and mastery of his art, made it even stranger, richer, disturbingly more human and universal.”
—Francisco Goldman, author of The Interior Circuit

The Mastermind is a merciless analysis of the dark web of a country, perhaps of a whole continent, and, finally, of all forms of organized power. The novel raises fascinating questions regarding the literary tensions between real-life events and their fictionalization, between Guatemala’s incredible Rosenberg case and Rosensweig, Unger’s imagined alter ego—the way these two characters blur, argue, and battle in the reader’s mind make this an engrossing read.”
—Andrés Neuman, author of The Things We Don’t Do


By all appearances, Guillermo Rosensweig is the epitome of success. He is a member of the Guatemalan elite, runs a successful law practice, has a wife and kids and a string of gorgeous lovers. Then one day he crosses paths with Maryam, a Lebanese beauty with whom he falls desperately in love . . . to the point that when he loses her, he sees no other option than to orchestrate his own death.

The Mastermind is based on the bizarre real-life story of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a Guatemalan attorney who, in 2009, planned his own assassination after leaving behind a video accusing Guatemalan president Álvaro Colom of his murder. (In April 2011, the New Yorker published an article by David Grann about Rosenberg which has been optioned by Matt Damon for his directorial debut.) This is a fascinating depiction of modern-day Guatemala and the corrupt, criminal, and threatening reality that permeates its society.

Listen to an interview with David Unger discussing former Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina at PRI’s The World.

Read excerpts from The Mastermind at Guernica and Literal Magazine.

Check out a music playlist compiled by David Unger and inspired by The Mastermind at Largehearted Boy.

Read interviews with David Unger at Reviewing the Evidence, The Millions, PW Show Daily, BEA Edition and the Penman Review.

Read a guest post by David Unger: Land of Eternal Spring on Bookanista (UK).

Book Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Published: 4/5/16
  • IBSN: 9781617754425
  • e-IBSN: 9781617754555


Guatemalan novelist DAVID UNGER was awarded his country’s Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature in 2014, despite writing exclusively in English. He is the author of the novels The Price of Escape and Life in the Damn Tropics. His short stories and essays have appeared in Words Without Borders, Guernica, KGBBarLit, and Playboy Mexico. He has translated fourteen books from Spanish into English. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Mastermind is his latest novel.

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