According to mobster-turned-Orthodox-Jew Ferrante, the book is mightier than the gun.
Like a surprising number of Mafiosi, the author wasn’t born into “the Life”—he earned and solidified his place in the family hierarchy primarily by becoming an ace truck hijacker. And it didn’t hurt that he was friendly with the son of Gambino crime family head John Gotti, arguably the most powerful, most visible mob figure of the late 20th century. If you were part of Gotti’s extended crew, you were expected to deliver, and for several years, Ferrante did just that. But the law finally caught up with the Queens-born thief; in 1994 he was busted, and he eventually wound up in a maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania. “My cell had dried shit and urine on the walls,” he writes. “At night, roaches covered the floor, crunching under my feet as I paced…They crawled over my head, and across my chest.” To escape these horrible conditions, Ferrante remade himself, first as an obsessive reader—everything from Winston Churchill’s biography to Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe and the Torah—then as a determined writer. A religious conversion followed, and next thing you know, he was back on the street, this time scaring teenagers straight. Ferrante’s solid storytelling skills bolster this semi-interesting addition to the crowded shelves of Mafia memoirs. His dialogue is hackneyed: attempting to reproduce New York/Italian accents by printing wit’ for with, and checka you mirra for check your mirror, is a gimmick that quickly becomes tiresome and gives the book a cartoonish quality.
A readable but not particularly resonant tale of redemption.