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The Mastermind
Cover of The Mastermind
The Mastermind
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Set in Guatemala and based on a true story, "this intriguing literary thriller will appeal to lovers of international crime fiction" (Booklist).

Guillermo Rosensweig 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. This is a fascinating depiction of modern-day Guatemala and the corrupt, criminal, and threatening reality that permeates its society.

"Engaging . . . Raw and unforgettable." —Publishers Weekly

"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

"A riveting account of one man's high-stakes journey to self-reckoning." —Cristina García, author of Dreaming in Cuban

Set in Guatemala and based on a true story, "this intriguing literary thriller will appeal to lovers of international crime fiction" (Booklist).

Guillermo Rosensweig 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. This is a fascinating depiction of modern-day Guatemala and the corrupt, criminal, and threatening reality that permeates its society.

"Engaging . . . Raw and unforgettable." —Publishers Weekly

"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

"A riveting account of one man's high-stakes journey to self-reckoning." —Cristina García, author of Dreaming in Cuban

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About the Author-
  • 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.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 11, 2016
    The corruption and hopelessness of modern Guatemalan politics interfere in the life of a womanizing lawyer in this engaging novel. Guillermo Rosensweig is a prominent attorney in Guatemala City with a client who believes he has discovered money laundering at the semi-governmental bank. As Guillermo works with government agent Ibrahim Khalil, he becomes lovers with Ibrahim's daughter, Maryam Mounier. When Ibrahim is murdered, authorities—and Guillermo—assume the second victim in the car was Maryam. In the aftermath, Guillermo's grief leads him to Miguel Paredes, a man bent on taking down the president using the financial misconduct that Ibrahim and Guillermo uncovered. With nothing left to live for, Guillermo decides to die for the cause of exposing Guatemala's corruption and agrees to Paredes's elaborate plan to make his suicide look like a murder. While weaving political commentary throughout the novel, Unger (The Price of Escape) devotes much of the first half to Guillermo's sex and love life. The engrossing romance between Guillermo and Maryam makes the alcohol-soaked grief, plan to die, and gradual recovery in the second half feel plodding and slow by comparison. Perhaps this is meant to reflect how adrift Guillermo feels without Maryam by his side, but removing the most compelling character impedes the story's initial momentum. Nonetheless, 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.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2016
    Unger (The Price of Escape, 2011, etc.) 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. Guillermo Rosensweig is a morally ambiguous character at best. Educated in the United States, he returns to Guatemala as a lawyer and a proudly right-wing capitalist. As his marriage fails, he begins a long string of casual affairs. Everything changes when Ibrahim Khalil, a government official, hires him to investigate some financial irregularities in his office. Guillermo is immediately fascinated by Khalil's daughter Maryam; the two begin an intense affair that results in the end of both their marriages. As the prologue makes clear, things will not work out well: the affair seems to proceed a little too easily, despite Ibrahim's obvious awareness of it. And the financial misdeeds get deeper and more ominous as the case goes on. The violent undercurrent of contemporary Guatemala barely registers to the increasingly self-absorbed Guillermo, who misses a number of crucial chances to escape his downfall. 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.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    March 1, 2016
    Apparently inspired by a New Yorker article about a Guatemalan attorney who planned his own murder and left behind a video blaming Guatemala's then-president for the crime, 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. Unger's unlikely hero is lawyer Guillermo Rosensweig, who chronicles the evolution of the country's plagues from his teens through middle age. Rosensweig marries beautiful but emotionally distant Rosa Esther, earns his law degree at Columbia University and becomes a relentless philanderer who returns to Guatemala and builds a law practice advising businessmen on navigating the corrupt government's policiesuntil he falls madly in love with Maryam, a Lebanese beauty, and begins investigating the government's endemic corruption. When he loses Maryam, he approves his own murder. The rich but tragic sense of place Unger develops in this intriguing literary thriller will appeal to lovers of international crime fiction.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2016, American Library Association.)

  • Book Haunt

    "An intriguing thriller with a fantastical ending. This is a good piece of historical fiction."

  • Francisco Goldman, author of The Interior Circuit "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."
  • Andrés Neuman, author of The Things We Don't Do "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."
  • Achy Obejas, author of Ruins "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."
  • Francisco Goldman, author of The Interior Circuit "Swaggering, visceral, and sharply astute, The Mastermind is a riveting account of one man's high-stakes journey to self-reckoning."
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