four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
15-Mar-Apr-2005
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0

A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts

A-BalladWhiskeyRobberAttila Ambrus was Hungary’s answer to Robin Hood. A refugee from Romania and failed hockey goalie, he committed 29 robberies between 1993 and 1999—most while stinking drunk. His pleasant, gentlemanly demeanor, hard-luck story, and habit of robbing only state-run banks made him a folk hero in 1990s Hungary. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber tells Ambrus’s story against the backdrop of post-Communist Eastern Europe—a region changing so rapidly that a shameless criminal could turn into an overnight star.
Little, Brown. 319 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0316071676

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Unlike many books today that run out of energy after the first several chapters, Rubinstein keeps the high energy, madcap comedy up throughout the book." Dylan Foley

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Underneath all of the action and intrigue that makes Ballad nothing short of a page-turner, however, there’s a subtle commentary on corruption and capitalism in the Hungarian setting." L.E. Rich

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Rubinstein’s zippy prose conveys Ambrus’s appeal without falling in love with him. … This fast-moving story is a rip-roaring cops and robbers saga with a Mitteleuropean heart." Jesse Berrett

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With a keen eye for the ridiculous, fearlessly high-speed prose and an extraordinary wealth of reported detail, Rubinstein conducts the affair like an unusually thoughtful carnival barker. His biggest shortcoming is his resolute sunniness, which at times collides with the prevailing Mitteleuropean gloom."
Ben Ehrenreich

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Rubinstein narrates all of these farcical goings-on with a sad affection peeking through, even for the dumbest and most corrupt characters. But primarily he maintains that marvelously sardonic, Eastern European resignation …" Jerome Weeks

Critical Summary

Hungarians loved Attila Ambrus; from Rubinstein’s appealing biography, it’s easy to see why. Rubinstein tells the story of this goalie-gone-bad with style and wit. He also maintains a historian’s impartiality, however, supported by a wealth of meticulous research. One reviewer complained that Rubinstein glossed over the misery of life in 1990s Hungary, but this was his only criticism of an engaging and informative tale. Readers of Ballad of the Whiskey Robber may not fall in love with Attila Ambrus as the Hungarians did, but his story will surely entertain them.