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Esquire
Wednesday, November 17th, 2004


 

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts

by Julian Rubinstein

Attila Has Fun

A review by Anna Godbersen

The setting is Budapest, the time is the end of the last century (when communism was just giving way to a wild west-atmosphere of burgeoning capitalism), and the hero is Attila Ambrus, a.k.a. the Chicky Panther, a.k.a. the Lone Wolf, a.k.a. the Whiskey Robber. The real-life picaresque that is Julian Rubinstein's The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber follows Attila, an ethnic Hungarian born in Romania , as he daringly escapes Ceausescu's communist regime and tries to make a go of it in the mother country. Attila--hapless, charming, and possessed of an alcoholic madness often associated with Eastern European men -- sleeps in a horse paddock, works as a gravedigger, and more or less stumbles his way onto a professional hockey team. As a remarkably undistinguished third-string goalie, he is also assigned duties as the Zamboni driver. Before long, Attila gets into the post-communist Hungarian swing of things, and begins smuggling pelts out of Transylvania. When that falls through, he is left with a taste for gambling and expensive cars, and so he soon becomes a criminal of another sort: a bank (and post office) robber. The string of robberies that follows is covered by Kriminális , an America's Most Wanted-style TV show, which dubs Attila the Whiskey Robber for the many shots of liquid courage he customarily downs before a job. As the Whiskey Robber, he is known not only for drunkenness, but also for his handsome physique and his politeness. He becomes a folk hero; with all the assassinations and gangsters and corrupt politicians in the background, Attila seems downright cuddly. He is also pursued by the Inspector Clouseau-like Lajos Varjú, the Chief of the Budapest police robbery department, who bears a passing resemblance to Attila, and whose deputies are nicknamed the Dance Instructor and Mound of Asshead. Rubinstein relates his (pleasantly, only slightly overwritten) tale with an absurdist energy appropriate to the Whiskey Robber's wild ride. His book offers that simple pleasure, a great story.


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