A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism

by Peter Mountford


Set in Bolivia at the time of the election of President Evo Morales, the novel tells the story of a young man's moral journey as he works for an unscrupulous hedge fund while pretending to be a freelance journalist.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547473352
  • ISBN-10: 0547473354
  • Pages: 304
  • Publication Date: 04/12/2011
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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  • On his first assignment for a rapacious hedge fund, Gabriel embarks to Bolivia at the end of 2005 to ferret out insider information about the plans of the controversial president-elect. If Gabriel succeeds, he will get a bonus that would make him secure for life. Standing in his way are his headstrong mother, herself a survivor of Pinochet’s Chile, and Gabriel’s new love interest, the president’s passionate press liaison. Caught in a growing web of lies and questioning his own role in profiting from an impoverished people, Gabriel sets in motion a terrifying plan that could cost him the love of all those he holds dear.

    In the tradition of Martin Amis, Joshua Ferris, and Sam Lipsyte—set against the stunning mountainous backdrop of La Paz and interspersed with Bolivia’s sad history of stubborn survival—Peter Mountford examines the critical choices a young man makes as his world closes in on him.

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  • 1

    Article IV Report

    Friday, November 25, 2005

    IT BEGAN WITH a single reedy voice calling out an incomprehensible

    refrain, some nasally phrase that would repeat all morning. Gabriel

    opened his eyes. The day’s first light glowed pale at the edge of the curtains.

    He’d requested an eighth-floor room hoping to avoid this. He

    closed his eyes again, optimistically. Another voice — this one burpy,

    froggish — joined in; this phrase was shorter. What could they be selling

    at that hour? A third voice entered and they were a chorus singing

    some garbled tune, a puzzle of phrases intoned with the distinctive eagerness

    of street vendors across the world. Car horns added a percussive

    layer. A policeman blew a whistle, hoping to introduce order, but

    all he added was a shrill note. Still, the sound didn’t truly find its center

    until the buses and micros joined in, shoving their way down the narrow

    roads. Gabriel knew that the noise had reached its peak register then:

    a din that would blast for sixteen hours. A symphony forever tuning up

    before its concert — it brayed him awake, brayed him to sleep. It was

    pure dissonance, but as he lay there he found that the anticipation of

    future harmony was palpable.

     Gabriel walked through to the bathroom, flipped on the light, and

    observed himself, hair askew, eyes puffy with sleep. Puberty had hit

    him young, at ten, but full-blown manhood seemed to be still in the

    offing. In college, he’d tried to grow an I-don’t-care-about-all-that-shit

    beard, but he’d ended up looking weird, and the truth — that he cared a

    lot — became obvious because he wouldn’t stop talking about the beard,

    so he had to give up and shave it off. Five years later, he was just as

    willowy, but he’d cut away the profusion of black hair and was shaving

    regularly.

     He brushed his teeth with bottled water and showered, making sure

    not to let any of the water into his mouth. Typhoid, amoebas, hepatitis,

    and dozens of other dangerous microbes swam in those pipes. The tap

    water even smelled different: chalky, it seemed. The water was so hard

    it swept the soap off his skin before he could lather up.

     Back in his bedroom with a teeny white towel wrapped around his

    waist, he slid open the curtains to see the crisp alpine light streaming

    down on the chaos below.

     The protests usually ended by lunchtime. If there was a march, it

    finished in Plaza Murillo, in front of the presidential palace. It had been

    this way since he arrived. The police stashed anti-riot gear in a dozen

    ministerial buildings on or near the plaza. Tear gas drifted through La

    Paz’s narrow streets like morning mist. When the gas seeped into Gabriel’s

    room at Hotel Gloria, it felt like a cloud of cayenne had been

    blown into his face. The first time this happened, he found that it took

    hours to dissipate, so when it happened again today, he abandoned his

    room. He took his laptop and went across the street to the Lookout, the

    top-floor restaurant at Hotel Presidente, where he could write in peace

    while his room aired out.

     No sooner had he sat down at the bar of the Lookout and opened

    his laptop than the bartender, Severo, told him that he’d already made

    enough pisco sours to get all the journalists in La Paz drunk. Gabriel

    smiled obligingly. It was ten in the morning and a few journalists were

    already gathering in the booths, drinking pisco sours. This was the end

    of the so-called Bolivian Gas War, and the fact that the war had been

    little more than a protracted series of protests did nothing to diminish

    the atmosphere of doomsday hedonism among the foreign press.

    Severo had latched on to Gabriel, who was set apart from the others

    by his youth, his ambiguous ethnicity, his fluency in Spanish, and, perhaps,

    the fact that he was Fiona’s boy toy.

     He and Fiona had first met a week before, when they both arrived

    on that day’s American Airlines flight from Miami. They had stood next

    to each other in line at the taxi stand, misty breath vanishing in gusts.

    She introduced herself and suggested that they share a taxi if he was

    headed downtown as well. They sat in the back seat of a cramped yellow

    car, which zipped down the winding road to La Paz, its engine

    emitting an ominous burning odor the whole way.

     Later that day, Fiona had gone behind the bar at the Lookout to

    show Severo how to make the best pisco sour in the world. “It’s all about

    the quantity of egg white and the ratio of ice to liquid,” she explained,

    delivering a tray of the cocktails to the table of journalists who were all

    there to cover the presidential race. “I slipped a Rohypnol into yours,”

    she said to Gabriel and winked, and maybe it was just his first two pisco

    sours, but for a second he had felt as though he could fall in love with

    someone like her.

     Fiona’s pisco sours were such a hit with the journalists that apparently

    Severo was now making them by the bucketful before his shift.

     Gabriel wrote for fifteen minutes at the bar before Severo said,

    “Where is your girl?”

     “Fiona?” How generous of him to call Fiona a girl. Generous too, if in

    a different way, to imply that she was Gabriel’s. “I’m going to meet her

    soon.”

     Severo nodded. “Is she a good journalist?”

     Gabriel said that she was great. He said that she seemed to get interviews

    with whomever she wanted. Then he qualified this by explaining

    that she worked for the Wall Street Journal.

     “Your newspaper is not so big?”

     Gabriel held up a pinkie finger to indicate the size, and Severo

    laughed. “Actually,” Gabriel said, “I don’t even have a newspaper. I am

    freelance.” He didn’t know the Spanish word for freelance so he just said

    it in English.

     Severo nodded, his eyebrows scrunched, and Gabriel could see that

    he didn’t understand. It didn’t matter to Severo. He just wanted to know

    whether he should be impressed. He just needed to know how to react.

    Gabriel said, “Not that many people read what I write, but the ones

    who do are big international investors.”

     Severo seemed to appreciate that. “What do you say about us?”

     Gabriel shrugged. “I try to be honest.”

     “Don’t you think that things will get better?” Severo said. “I do.”

     Gabriel grimaced. “I hope so.”

     And Severo, who had seemed so blasé a few minutes before, so carefree,

    stared at Gabriel, a plastic jar of pisco sour in his hand, and said,

    “Please don’t write anything bad about us.” It was the most heartfelt

    thing Gabriel had heard all week.

     “I won’t,” Gabriel assured him. He made plenty of eye contact, to indicate

    his sincerity.

     But as it happened, he was mid-draft in a brief stating that the Bolivian

    government’s reluctance to publish their latest Article IV report

    only reinforced his doubts about their future.

     The Article IV report was a candid — and therefore highly classi-

    fied — analysis of a country’s economy and problems, including a critical

    assessment of its policies, written by the International Monetary

    Fund. Gabriel had been trying to get his hands on a copy since he’d arrived.

    Most countries published their Article IV reports, even if these

    documents gave grim appraisals of the future. They published the reports

    ostensibly in the interest of

  • "The Bolivian setting is colorful and engaging, as are the financial maneuverings."
    -Publishers Weekly

    "[T]he novel holds the reader's interest to the end... [Mountford's] affectionate portrayal of Bolivia is probably the book's strongest point."
    -Library Journal

    "This is a solid read that is both adventurous and thought-provoking on the themes of racial identity, South Americans, politics, and wealth."
    -Booklist

     “A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism is, quite simply, one of the most compelling and thought-provoking novels I’ve read in years. It’s extraordinarily vivid, populated by characters whose fates I cared about desperately, beautifully written, timely beyond measure, but above all it conveys -- with impressive precision and nuance—how we are vectors on the grid of global capital; how difficult it is to even attempt to be an authentic, let alone admirable, human being when we are, first and last, cash flow.”
    — David Shields, author of Reality Hunger: A Manifesto 

    "A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism is a terrific debut novel—smart, moving, beautifully written. Peter Mountford's parable of the voracious global economy reminded me of Graham Greene's The Quiet American in its clear-eyed depiction of the realpolitik of our age."
    — Jess Walters, author of The Financial Lives of the Poets

    "A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism is a brilliant debut novel, one that is generous in giving readers an original cast of vividly-drawn and unforgettable characters, learned in its knowledge of the interwoven worlds of finance and politics, sexy, and thoroughly cosmopolitan. Peter Mountford is easily one of the most gifted and skillful young writers, already accomplished, I have had the pleasure of reading in many years."
    — Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passage and Dreamer

    “In his debut novel, A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism, Peter Mountford has something important to say about the ambiguous moral ground where the personal meets the political. He has experience and sophistication beyond his years and is well-positioned to mine this vein. This novel is worth your time and attention.”
    — David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars

    "Peter Mountford, in his amazing debut as a novelist, has updated the gilded myth of Wall Street swashbucklers in expensive suits and spun it out into the world in a hellbent tale, dramatizing the contorted rationalizations practiced by the financial elite to justify their self-delusion. Forget fame, respect, making the world a better place. Transcend the craving for money by acquiring a truckload of it. Buddha as a hedge fund operator, reallocating soullessness throughout the system."
    — Bob Shacochis, author of Swimming in the Volcano and The Next New World

    "Peter Mountford's A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism is a sharp, funny and terrifying novel— in a world so much like our own (part of the terror: it may, in fact, be our world), Gabriel's actions and the reactions of those around him caused me to wonder, again and again: how do I wish to live in this world, and what latitude might I find?"
    — Peter Rock, author of My Abandonment