Reviewed: Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

November 28, 2007

It would be tough to dislike this book.True, it starts slowly–after the prologue, where we meet our hero Attila Ambrus as he is breaking out of Hungarian prison, we are treated to slightly less interesting fare–Attila growing up, Attila going to juvie, Attila sneaking into Hungary by hitching a train–okay, that part isn’t bad. But then the story really picks up: It’s the true-life, meticulously researched story of the worst hockey goalie in Hungarian history, who was paid so little (when he was paid at all) that he turned to bank robbing to supplement his income. In post-Communist Hungary, the police force was not up to the task of catching this incredibly determined man who disguised himself with dollar-store wigs and fake mustaches. It probably didn’t hurt that Attila feared nothing while drunk, a prerequisite to any holdup, that he could run like hell, and that one of officers of Budapest’s police force was so stupid that the rest of the force nicknamed him Mound of Asshead.

Part of what makes this book so appealing is the care author Julian Rubinstein took in translating Hungarian idiomatically. He says in his author’s notes that he doesn’t speak a word of Hungarian, but that he badgered his translators to make sure that he got the sense of the words as well as the meaning. Also, the work involved in putting this together must surely have been tremendous: Rubinstein spent weeks in Hungary and months digging through archives to write this story, and it shows.

Finally, though Attila is a criminal and in some ways almost deplorable, Rubinstein portrays the man as a whole. This is not just the story of the worst goalie in Hungarian hockey history–it’s an empathic portrait of the worst goalie in Hungarian hockey history. Almost makes you want to throw down your book and go break the man out of prison.


One Response to “Reviewed: Ballad of the Whiskey Robber”

  1. […] Robber strikes again! December 10, 2007 Just kidding. He’s still in prison. (Huh? Catch up here.) But a commenter pointed me toward this recent video of Attila in prison speaking with author […]

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