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Siberian Education: Growing Up in a Criminal Underworldby Nicolai Lilin
Synopses & Reviews
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'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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Book News Annotation:
Transnistria, a region between Ukraine and Moldova, is inhabited exclusively by criminals who were exiled there by Stalin. Lilin, who grew up there, tells of a region which is a haven for "honest" criminals where justice is carried out quickly and violently, people are covered in encoded tattoos, and everyone is armed. He tells his story of growing up in Transnistria, apprenticing with a tattoo artist, and fighting in the war with Chechnya. Aimed at the general reader, Lilin's account sheds light on this grim corner of the world. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
"Marvelous and illuminating. . . . Forces us to reassess our notions of good and evil."--Irvine Welsh
About the Author
Nicolai Lilin grew up in Transnistria, which declared its independence in 1990 but has never been recognized as a state. He fought as a sniper in the Russian army in Chechnya. He currently runs a tattoo parlor in Turin, Italy.
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