The Price of Escape
David Unger

NOVEL | 2011 | 280 pages

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.

As 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.


Evoking both Kafka and Conrad, Unger’s character study of a broken man in a culture broken by a ravenous corporation makes compelling reading.
— Booklist
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 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 Say Her Name and 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
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