In a contested, lawless region between Moldova and Ukraine known as Transnistria, a tightly knit group of “honest criminals” exiled there by Stalin-live according to strict codes of ritualized respect and fierce loyalty. Here, tattoos tell the story of a man’s life, “honest” weapons are separated from “sinful” ones, and authority is always to be distrusted. Beyond the control of any government and outside the bounds of “society” as we know it, these men uphold values including respect for elders and an unwavering adherence to the truth with passion-and often by brute force. In a voice utterly compelling and unforgettable, Nicolai Lilin, born and raised within this exotic subculture, tells the story of his moral education among the Siberian Urkas. A bestseller in his home country of Italy, this unique tale of an extreme boyhood “will produce a thrill of pleasure that is hard to forget” (Roberto Saviano).”
There is question about how “biographical” this novel is. I don’t care, I liked it, extravagant violence and all. The author of Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh called it, “Marvelous and illuminating…Forces us to reassess our notions of good and evil.” Born in an area between Ukraine and Moldova called Transnistria (which I had to look up because I didn’t believe it existed. It does) Lilin grew up among a tightly knit group of exiled Siberian criminals. Living by their own set of rules, outside of and against the government, these “honest criminals” valued respect and ritual above all else. Frankly, they all (even the children) seemed a lot more put together, truthful and organized than the U.S. government. His second book, Sniper, is also just as compelling (if not even more unbelievable.) But again, combine tattoos, gratuitous violence and biography and I’m sold.