"Marvelous and illuminating. . . . Forces us to reassess our notions of good and evil."#xE2;#xAC;#x1D;Irvine Welsh
There's honor aplenty among the noble thieves in this glamorized memoir of post-Soviet gangster life. Lilin, a tattoo artist living in Italy, where this mafia-positive saga was a bestseller, grew up in the 1980s and '90s in a Transnistrian town (on the border of Ukraine and Moldova) settled by hereditary criminal clans exiled from Siberia. Their "Urka" subculture is thick indeed: switchblades are religious icons, elaborate tattoos depict criminal exploits, and a strict ethical code parses purification rituals and dietary rules. (Take note: an outlaw never accepts food from a cop's tainted hands.) There are gory rumbles-"to leave him a souvenir from Siberia, I cut the ligaments under his knee"-and lurid prison gang rapes, but Lilin paints the Urka underworld as the last stand of pious morality ("We didn't use swear words... we never talked disrespectfully about elderly persons") against Kremlin despotism and Western decadence. Many of his reminiscences, which contain "combined" characters, "condensed" events, and "imaginative recreations," have a distinctively Russian, folkloric tone: "how beautiful and generous Plum's soul was," Lilin writes of a friend who allegedly murdered 12,000 policemen over three decades. Factual or not, his portrait of high-minded banditry-"The exploitation of prostitution had always been considered an offense unworthy of a criminal"-never feels true to life. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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W. W. Norton & Company
April 10, 2011
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