Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives and Broken Hearts, is maybe the longest title ever, but Julian Rubinstein writes a hell of a story, yet it’s all true. This was our nonfiction read for this month in my local book club and while it didn’t ring all the bells for me, it was still really enjoyable.
Julian Rubinstein writes an exhaustive portrayal of Attila Ambrus as he comes to Hungary and becomes the country’s most infamous bank robber, through various hi-jinks and logic-defying incompetency. Rubinstein takes his job very seriously as a chronicler and spares little when it comes to details alongside a grand scale historical treatment of Hungary as a country in the post-communism years and the transition economically to free-market capitalism in the late 80s – early to mid-90s. As someone of Eastern European descent myself, I really enjoyed the historical framing and facts, even if they tended to set the narrative back a pace concerning Attila.
The person of Attila Ambrus, is a man from a rather tortured background who escapes Transylvania in hopes of a better life than free-market capitalism promises. Rubinstein’s depiction of post-communist Eastern Europe is much different than what most individuals in the West would have you expect, and it posits a much more ambiguous historical account.
What ends up happening to Attila is also much messier and soon there’s a cascade of events that are not entirely in Attila’s control, given the circumstances. In order to make ends meet (and to feed his appetites) he turns to rob banks, but even these robberies are mostly harmless. The depictions of these “heists” that Rubinstein paints are often so absurd, they couldn’t possibly be true, yet they are. Thrown in here and there are often small jokes or funny situations, because Attila is a man of good humor, even when he is down on his luck.
Overall, this book spans decades and chronicles the often reality-defying events that makeup Attila’s escapades. If you’re into crime thrillers and absurd real-life stories, don’t miss out on Rubinstein’s excellent researched and expertly crafted story.