PETER MOUNTFORD IS A SEATTLE WRITER whose debut novel, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, was published in April. As a child, Mountford witnessed the outbreak of civil war in Sri Lanka and spent holidays in Scotland with his father’s family; later on, he worked at a think tank in Ecuador and lived in Paris and Mexico. His time abroad helped shape his writer’s sensibility: always observing, always questioning. Mountford has turned that penetrating gaze onto Bolivia, where his protagonist Gabe, on assignment for a hedge fund, must dig up insider information about the financial plans of Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president. The novel takes place in late 2005, and the epilogue skips ahead to 2009, deep into the U.S. recession after the collapse of investment firms such as Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. Along the way, Gabe faces off against formidable female characters: Lenka, the president’s press secretary and Gabe’s love interest; his mother, an anthropology professor at Pomona College; Fiona, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal; and Priya, his boss at the hedge fund. Half-Chilean, half-Russian, with an upbringing in the well-to-do college enclave of Claremont, California, Gabe has looks that can “pass” depending on the situation, on the angle he’s working, and on the eye of the beholder. He’s an anti-hero born of the West Coast and the new millennium.
— Vanessa Hua
I’m looking forward to the time when we all look like Polynesians.
— Henry Louis Gates Jr.
PETER MOUNTFORD: My protagonist Gabe is in a complicated situation — white and not white, Latin and Caucasian, child of communism and of capitalism, quite California and also fully New York. He’s kind of a multi-tasker in that way, and wants his identity to remain as open-ended as possible.
He grew up highly attuned to these systemic power structures as a biracial, bilingual son of a single mother who was wealthier and more educated than the parents of many of his friends. For Gabe, identity is necessarily malleable. If it’s fixed, he’s screwed, because he needs to be very different people in different instances. He grew up in Claremont, which — because of its location and demographics — exists in a very complicated place, in terms of class. It’s wealthy and academic and rather white, but it’s surrounded by the sea of the Inland Empire, which tends to be poor and Chicano.
[Gabe] was partially pasty-Russian and partially café-con-crema Chilean. Despite what his mother seemed to believe, it wasn’t as if one race had swallowed the other.
— A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism
PETER MOUNTFORD: Gabe is “amphibious,&rdqu...read more