Alisic’s debut memoir, composed entirely in prison, begins in the mid-1990s: “This is my story as I remember it,” he writes in the foreword—and if even half of it is true, it’s enough adventure for 10 lifetimes. The author escaped the clutches of ruthless Serbian militants following Yugoslavia’s breakup, relocated to Phoenix and achieved success selling used cars. But the only thing more rewarding than making money was spending it, and with the help of the nearby Casino Arizona, Alisic did just that. What should have been merely recreational begins to possess him in a way he could never have imagined. Helpless against gambling’s siren song, his small empire crumbled as his company’s profits fueled his habit. Although the finer details of his business operations tend to be long-winded, even extraneous, they underscore just how easily the blackjack table ripped away what took so long to build. As his desperation increased, Alisic’s financers threatened to sue; his unsupervised employees embezzled from the company coffers; and his cherished girlfriend, Selma, left him. “Last night, I gambled away a 2002 Mustang,” he confides. “I realized that the more I was going there, the more I craved it. Not because I wanted to be there. Not because I liked it. But because I knew I wasn’t a loser, and I wanted to even the score.” In this case, evening the score meant boosting $2 million from Casino Arizona. Yet his self-styled description of his story as a “real-life Ocean’s Eleven” sells the reality short. Far from the devil-may-care attitude of those films, his memoir reveals the scheme as the remarkably human outcome of a life marked by anguish and the hope of redemption. A series of harrowing flashbacks to Bosnia—illegally selling cigarettes in Prijedor, leaping into a sewage canal while outrunning a barrage of bullets, witnessing a massacre, being tortured nearly to death—transforms Alisic into a hero worthy of anyone’s admiration. The climax is as much a lifetime’s catharsis as it is the conclusion of an audacious caper.
An engaging, mile-a-minute crime memoir.