Growing Up in a Criminal Underworld
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Visceral memoir of a rough, criminal upbringing in a curious outpost of exiled Siberians near the Moldovan border.

Transnistria was inhabited by a group of transplanted Siberian Urkas, deported during the Stalinist era of Communist collectivization and now deeply entrenched in a nether region. “The people of our villainous district were like one big family,” writes Lilin, who grew up in a house full of wondrous weapons, icons and crucifixes. His father and other males of the family were professional criminals who made good livings as robbers and thugs and boasted a string of prison sentences and violent run-ins with the police. From an early age, the author had to learn the criminal code of conduct, involving elaborate gun-handling rules, resistance to government at all costs, prison stories and the forming of special relationships with older community members, who taught him the old ways. By reciting a Pushkin poem, the author earned a cherished pike, or flick knife, the traditional weapon of the Siberian criminal, and became a hero among his friends. Lilin was also a talented artist and apprenticed at age 12 to learn the trade of the kolshik, or tattoo artist. He and his band of boys were dubbed “Siberian Education,” and were soon embroiled in gang fights, running messages for their fathers and skirmishes with police. In between stints in juvenile prison, the author relates touching moments, such as the prison etiquette still observed when the old criminals dined at Aunt Katya’s restaurant. Lilin’s youthful scrapes and wild yarns eventually ran up against Russian military service at age 18, and the hothead was shipped out to fight saboteurs in Chechnya.

A stark account that projects raw energy and youthful swagger.


Pub Date: April 11th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-393-08085-8
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2011


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