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The Price of Escape


Three days in the life of Samuel Berkow, a German Jew escaping Nazi Germany by boat to Guatemala in 1938.

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What people are saying…

“Evoking both Kafka and Conrad, Unger’s character study of a broken man in a culture broken by a ravenous corporation makes compelling reading.”

“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

“David Unger’s tale utterly seduces with its mix of the exotic and the familiar.”
Toronto Star

“Unger’s rendering of human contradiction is masterful, for in the space of Samuel’s four days of awe, Unger reveals life’s slippery terms of engagement in all their complexity with a clarity that still contains compassion . . . We can be grateful for the message of this wondrous book: despite our fears, even the least heroic among us can find the will to go forward.”
Literature and Arts of the Americas

“David Unger spins a fascinating tale of weird redemption in The Price of Escape, leading us on a tense journey from 1938 Nazi Germany all the way to Guatemala. The sinister United Fruit Company casts a giant shadow over this vividly rendered landscape, devouring everyone and everything in its path. Unger has created a compelling protagonist in the flawed and anguished Samuel Berkow, a man on the run from his own demons and the terrible forces of history.”
Jessica Hagedorn, author of Dream Jungle

The Price of Escape is a supremely well-crafted emotional and historical tale of a lonely Jewish man’s flight from Nazi Germany to Guatemala, a supposed tropical paradise that is also cursed, and where he must carve out a new life.”
—Francisco Goldman, author of The Art of Political Murder

The Price of Escape is a fresh, provocative, and deeply moving historical novel that explores the fate of a young Jewish man who narrowly escapes Nazi Germany, only to find himself ensnared in the squalid underbelly of a Guatemalan port town. In the unusually compelling character of Samuel Berkow, author David Unger has authentically captured the profound sense of displacement—physical, emotional and spiritual—that all of the dispossessed must face.”
T Cooper, author of Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes and The Beaufort Diaries


The Price of Escape depicts three days in the life of Samuel Berkow, a German Jew who leaves Nazi Germany by boat in 1938 to Guatemala where his cousin Heinrich awaits his arrival. As the tramp steamer approaches Puerto Barrios, Samuel is full of hope that he will be able to remake his life in the New World. But having spent the better part of the last fifteen years recovering from his injuries in the Great War, navigating between mismatched parents and pining for Lena, the wife who abandoned him, he is ill-equipped to grapple with the malicious, often sadistic, characters that inhabit a hot, seedy port town. From the moment he gets off the boat, Samuel falls victim to them. It’s only when he commits an act he never thought he was capable of that he starts the slow journey to become the man he needs to be.

Part character study and part riveting narrative, The Price of Escape is its own mix of Kafka, Conrad, and Celine, as Samuel stumbles to get his footing in a hostile setting. But to do that, he must contend with Alfred Lewis, the coarse and unpredictable manager of the United Fruit Company; flying snakes, pet iguanas, and frogs whose saliva causes blindness; the cruel dwarf Mr. Price, whose sole purpose in life seems to be to mock Samuel; and the host of depraved creatures—petty thieves, liars, prostitutes, defrocked priests and anti-Semites—scheming to destroy him.

The Price of Escape rushes to its dramatic climax when a crime is committed in a Chinese restaurant and readers are left unsure if Samuel will prevail.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Published: 4/19/11
  • IBSN: 9781936070923
  • e-IBSN: 9781617750434


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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