Life in the Damn Tropics ( The Americas)

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Overview

Set in strife-torn Guatemala City in the early 1980s, this sophisticated, quasi-comedic tale depicts the decline and near-fall of a prominent Guatemalan Jewish family. In the face of military rule, terrorism, and sabotage, Marcos learns the truth about his brother Aaron, only to find that sibling secrets can be every bit as dangerous as civil unrest.

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Overview

Set in strife-torn Guatemala City in the early 1980s, this sophisticated, quasi-comedic tale depicts the decline and near-fall of a prominent Guatemalan Jewish family. In the face of military rule, terrorism, and sabotage, Marcos learns the truth about his brother Aaron, only to find that sibling secrets can be every bit as dangerous as civil unrest.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Three Jewish brothers struggle to keep their family’s business ventures alive through a period of political unrest and upheaval in Unger’s satisfying debut novel."—Publishers Weekly

"The Jewish experience in twentieth century Central America . . . enlivened by innocent eroticism and comic absurdity."—Kirkus Reviews

"A sharply intelligent, passionately written novel."—Oscar Hijuelos, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299200541
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Series: The Americas Series
  • Pages: 301
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David Unger, born in Guatemala, is a prize winning translator, U.S. representative of the Guadalajara International Book Fair, and director of City College of New York’s Publishing Certificate Program.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2003

    Absurdist Utopias in Guatemala

    Jewish diaspora narratives lend themselves quite readily to absurdism. Life is comprised of a concatenation of illogical events, sequential by chronology, but nothing else. The search for truth is subverted by the constant reminder that there is no truth, and that any of the tenets of essence that one might have employed to assure oneself of a bit of certainty in the world are utterly hollow. Language is layered and mediated, worlds are polyphonous and dialogical, but there is no actual response, since several languages are employed simultaneously. Causality is in effect, but it is primitive, and meaningless, except in the construction of metaphor. Example: the consumption of raw turtle eggs lead to immediate, severe, violent food poisoning. However, this is also an echo of the existential response to nostalgia; the memories (submerged, sad, sweet) of the last time one ate turtle eggs. Marcos Eltaleph, the protagonist, is hostage to the misdeeds of his brother, Aaron Eltaleph, who is under hospital arrest in Guatemala City, where he is suspected of double-dealing by Guatemalan officials. Marcos, forced into a position of loyalty that threatens to undermine the only way(s) he knows himself, begins to implode psychologically as the family scandal expands. The energy of implosion is picaresque, and there is a sort of joy in the destruction of preconceived notions. Adrenaline is preferable to logical response. The things that have value are made valueless, including life, work, human invention. Aaron's venture into the nightclub business is a perfect example of this. It begins as a venture filled with promise, then turns into a gathering place for the Guatemalan military and heavy-hitters -- always dangerous in Central America. Much of the narrative rests on the deliberate countering of family values and Jewish tradition. Marcos rebels, or perversely disregards, the core values of his family by having a Colombian prostitute as a girlfriend, by making deals with untrustworthy, highly venal partners, the Guatemalan dictatorship / mob. Yet, there is a celebration of the eccentric, wily, and street-smart. The breakdown of rigid societal structures allows others to emerge with dionysian energy. Metamorphosis is possible. The setting of Life in the Damn Tropics heightens contrasts between luxury "compound" vacations and the jungle around it. Jungle, dnager, invasion of body and self are ever-present metaphors for life in an absurd situation caught between competing interests. Nevertheless, Guatemala, which is perhaps the quintessential dystopia -- an infernal inversion of Eden -- provides an anarchic, playful catalyst to life.

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