Julian Rubinstein

An excerpt from “Ballad of the Whiskey Robber”

by Julian Rubinstein

**Winner, Borders 2004 “Original Voices” Non-fiction Book of the Year; Finalist, 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award “Best Fact Crime”; Finalist, 2005 Anthony Award, Best Non-fiction Book; Finalist, 2007 Audie Award, Best Audio Book

**a New York Times “Editors’ Choice”

**”An instant classic” -Canada’s Globe and Mail

**”Studs Terkel eat your heart out” -Boldtype

**”This is a grand thriller, perhaps the first of a genre” -Andrei Codrescu

**News: On January 31, 2012, Attila Ambrus (aka, the Whiskey Robber) will be released from prison in Hungary. He is 44 years old. There is a new page with collected art, songs, videos, and audio tributes at: www.whiskeyrobber.com

For reviews of the book and other info, click here

To buy the bookclick here.
To buy the digital audio cabaret recording starring Eric Bogosian, Demetri Martin, Jonathan Ames, Gary Shteyngart and others, click here.
To buy the e-bookclick here.

A note about this excerpt: 

I first interviewed Attila Ambrus in the Hungarian Supreme Courthouse on Decemeber 14, 2000, the day he was sentenced to 15 years in prison (later extended to 17.) I was there on a magazine assignment and the basics of what I knew already qualified it as one of the greatest pure stories I’d ever heard. (Nonetheless, as a youngish magazine writer at the time, it took me almost a full year to land an assignment, first from Talk magazine, and then as that magazine began to fall apart, it was taken on at Details.)

Attila had become a Hungarian folk hero by masterminding an outrageous crime spree that played out like a serialized satire of the corrupt political and banking systems in nascent capitalist Hungary. (This audio clip from the cabaret recording describes one newspaper’s take: “He didn’t rob a bank. He just performed a peculiar redistribution of wealth that differs from the elites only in its method.”) Targeting state-owned banks and post offices, where he was handing flowers to tellers and mailing wine to investigators, Attila remained at large for almost seven years and 29 robberies, becoming known as the Whiskey Robber because witnesses always spotted him doing a double shot across the street prior to his heists. During this time, he was also the goaltender for Budapest’s best known pro hockey team, UTE. (He was also arguably the worst pro goalie ever to play the sport, once giving up 23 goals in one game. Not to mention he was paid a Zamboni driver’s salary, since that was the job he’d been hired for.)

It was rare material but what made me decide to take on this story as a book was the characters who — so comically and tragically — told a much bigger tale: of free market capitalism, of national identity, of the post-communist era, and of the struggles of Underdogs, everywhere.  An ethnic Hungarian from Transylvania (part of Romania), Attila wanted nothing more than to be someone and to belong somewhere. At age 20, he took his life into his hands and climbed underneath a train, escaping into Hungary. It was 1988, just before the fall of communism. Big changes were coming, and for the first time in many people’s lifetimes, so was the prospect of true Western-style opportunity. This is where this excerpt begins. -JR

Chapter 2

Note: This excerpt is not currently available. For more on the story, visit: www.whiskeyrobber.com