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Siberian Education: Growing Up in a Criminal Underworld

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  3,175 ratings  ·  284 reviews
"Marvelous and illuminating. . . . Forces us to reassess our notions of good and evil."—Irvine Welsh

In a contested, lawless region between Moldova and Ukraine known as Transnistria, a tightly knit group of "honest criminals"—exiled there by Stalin-live according to strict codes of ritualized respect and fierce loyalty. Here, tattoos tell the story of a man's life, "honest"

Hardcover, 447 pages
Published April 11th 2011 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2009)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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 ·  3,175 ratings  ·  284 reviews

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Marc Nash
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In my review of Lilin's other book "Free Fall", I said that his writing about the war in Chechnya knocked the spots off Vietnam War books. And in this, his earlier memoir about his childhood, Siberian criminal culture is laid bare and knocks all Mafia tales into a cocked hat. Exotic, brutal and frankly bizarre, it's a tale of an old culture with all its values and mores that seem to derive from another planet. But the book is undeniably fascinating.

The Siberians here don't even live in Siberia,
Mar 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
This was a First Reads giveaway for which I am grateful, but I finally had to abandon this one, which is unfortunate because many of the stories were interesting but I just could not get into it. The writing style (or lack thereof) was one factor in my decision as it was simply too vague and jumped around from vignette to vignette with little to no rhyme or reason. It was difficult to follow since there was no continuous storyline. I understand that should be expected with an autobiography but i ...more
Apr 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoirs, read-in-2011
I received this book free through Librarything's early reviewers program.

This certainly is an extraordinary story, soaked in gore in a Painted Bird sort of way. Nicolai Lilin claims he has murdered multiple people, and so has almost everyone he grew up with, including one guy who killed thousands of policemen and kept their badges. While he was in juvenile prison he witnessed numerous gang rapes, some of which were made into child pornography films, and there were several more murders. The s
Dec 31, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I finally admit defeat. I tried. I honestly did try but this book is just not worth the time or effort. I basically don't know whether it's a load of baloney and the work of the author's imagination or just uninteresting. I simply did not care what happened to the main character and could not buy into the macho, bulls**t world he lived in. Boring. Dull. Not worth the money I paid...and that was in a book sale!
Dec 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I can safely say that I've never read anything quite like this book. it starts almost as a straightforward anthropological study of an ethnic criminal gang in the eastern reaches of the Russian Federation: mores, manners, gender roles, rites of passage, jailhouse traditions, and tattoo meanings. The book eventually turns to an unsentimental autobiography of the author's coming of age, leading to him joining the Army during the Chechnyan conflict. Fascinating and disturbing.
Isa K.
Dec 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Siberian Education starts off with the following disclaimer:

This memoir is based on the author's own experiences. Names have been changed, characters combined and events compressed. Certain episodes are imaginative recreation, and those episodes are not intended to portray actual events.

The first part of that disclaimer is fairly standard, the second part is not and it can't help but color your judgement of this ludicrously violent tale of honor of among thieves. I kind of wonder if this disclai
Jay Mccready
Mar 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I know I got this book for free, but at the risk of sounding biased I absolutely loved this book! It's written in a straight forward style that's direct and to the point which I found to be really refreshing. You will not find flowery language, run on sentences or fluff here.

This is a no holds barred account of growing up in a community where violence is a way of life and it was chilling, disturbing and enlightening all at the same time. I was fascinated by the dichotomy of their culture with t
Jun 21, 2011 rated it did not like it
This memoir by Nicolai Lilin is about a community of criminals deported by Stalin known as Siberian Urkas. Initially, you understand it is a story of endless violence, the moral code followed by the "gangs", platitudes spewed out by the elders and Nicolai's education of how to survive as a ruthless gang member. As I read, it felt like I was listening to the author talking at nauseism about all his escapades and his glorification of the activities. It was like hitting a rewind button. I read it t ...more
Dec 31, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I gave up. There were too many lies and untruths and errors that I'm disgusted this was ever published.

If you want to read about the Vori v zakone, find a different book.

If you want to learn about Siberians, this book will tell you nothing.

If you want to read about violence, here you go. Just know that it's not true.
Vaiva Sapetkaitė
This is a strange book, but in a good way. I found it engaging, but rather too long. Nothing essential wouldn't be lost, if it was made 1/3 shorter. I would be glad, if its writing style would be more elegant, but maybe when a russian is writing in italian and later it is translated to lithuanian it could be expected.
Patrick O'Neil
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Repetitious, sophomoric, homophobic, and unapologetic... an editor's heavy hand would've helped - but in the end the judgmental condescending attitude of the author made me give up way before the end.
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic insight into an unimaginable life...
Mar 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011, memoirs-bio
This is such a strange book from a very strange country. This country seems to be in a 50 year time warp, with Lenin statues still standing. The Transnistria postage,passports and money are not accepted in any other country. This country is not even recognized by the UN or other countries.I wasn't familiar with Transnistria, had never even heard of it. So,I researched it on the Internet

It is a country that broke off the Moldavia to the west and has on its east is the Ukraine. Here this country
Ian Andrews
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
My advice: don't waste your time or money. In the internet you can find some articles discussing this hoax: Michael Bobick's "Bending the Truth" (in English, very well documented), and Antonio Armano's "Lilin, la buffala che vene dal fredo" (in Italian).

In fact, the only thing I've learned as a result of reading this book is that "buffala" is the Italian word for "hoax". I don't know what drove a credible journalist like Roberto Saviano to endorse this invention by Italian-based tattoo artist Ni
Ger Byrne
Dec 23, 2019 rated it did not like it
This is honestly one of the worst books I've ever read. It's ridiculously far fetched with most of the stories reading like complete fairy tales. It's seriously like something a 10 year old would write with all the stupid yarns of how him and 5 of his friends would kill about 400 rivals, who were all armed with machine guns while they only had some pebbles ( I exaggerate but you get the point). The amount of supposedly retarded or brain damaged people in the book is remarkable and his friend Mel ...more
May 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Absolutley great story about what happened with young people in Russia, with those, who was born at the end of USSR, whom childhood was at bloody 90s. I understand, why this book everywhere in the world described as one of the best russian books. It shows everything how it was in real. And the same way I understand why this book will never be translated to russian language. I strongly recommend this book to everyone, who want how it was to raise in Russia and ex-USSR at 90's, our youth-culture a ...more
Nefeli Konsta
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ι found this book in the discount department of a small cute bookstore in my new neighborhood. It seemed so interesting so I couldn't wait to start reading it. I have to say the only thing I wasn't was disappointed. This book is different and that was made it interesting. The stories were very good and in general, I was fascinated by all the new things I learned. This book will make you reconsider what you identify as good and bad. If you are not done for that and if you don't approach it with a ...more
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: romanian
A novel/fictionalized memoir with a lot of blood and cruelty for which you need to be prepared somehow. Editor's blurb was helpful to some extent.

The story itself is very loose and hardly makes out a narrative line across the entire book, but what I liked most is the melancholy which you feel in author's voice when remembering the past days of childhood and teen ages which will never return, both because that age is now past behind him and also because the world in which he has been raised has b
Mar 14, 2018 rated it liked it
The tattoo chapter of this book will make you want to turn your own body into a diary and a canvas to penetrate your own "suffering" right into your skin. However, I gave it 3 out of 5, because I want to take off the fictional elements and get the brutal, raw reality of that underworld criminal community from the soviet union.
Harry Junior
A hell of a mess to read. I can only imagine what the original manuscript was like. Not a singular linear story, but a collection of memories and stories that carry no sense of chronology.

But damn, many of them are engrossing. The orthodoxy, the lore, the glimpses into a world far removed from my own. You just have to get past being able to piece them all together into a cohesive whole.
Giuseppe Turco
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the story and the description of the Siberian criminality in it; I didn't even know its existence before reading this book. I had watched the related movie some time before and, although I consider it worth watching, i prefer the book.
Josipa Cvelić
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and easy to read. A challenging read from the moral aspect.
Alex Dabi Zhevi
Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
It was hard to distinguish between 'reality' and complete 'bullshit' – but I think the best parts were in describing the multi-ethnic state that was the Soviet Union/USSR. Really complicated.
Esmay Bakker
Nice story, but not written in a way I could finish the book. Read the half.. Then I quit. Love the idea of the community though.
Cosmin Nicolae
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Savages, pure and antouched by the civilization. I come from Romania, near to Ucraina, Moldova and Russia. Is like a deja vu from what my grandfather used to tell me about the comunist era.
This was quite fascinating.
I was told by a moldavian guy that there are a lot of lies in this book.
Peter Ruman
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
starts interesting, then turns from boring to horrible to boring again and always fails to make a straight point.
Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
"To live outside the law you must be honest," Bob Dylan sang once, and few books I've read stick as closely to that as Siberian Education, the story of Nicolai Lilin's youth in the contested republic of Transnistria (Moldova/Russia). According to Lilin, this is where Stalin sent more or less the entire Siberian mob back in the day, and they've all settled there and carried on their business. We get to follow the young Nicolai from childhood - starting with the first time he sees the police come ...more
Siberian Education is a memoir of a young criminal.

Nikolaj grew up in Bender, Moldova, during the last years of the USSR and the first years after its collapse. That city featured several quarters run by criminal communities, the author's own being one consisting of Siberian expatriates, transplanted by Stalin all the way across the USSR for reasons unknown.

Apparently, there are essentially two things that define a Siberian criminal community: their strong sense of community spirit and tradition
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Nicolai Lilin is a Russian writer of Siberian origin. He was born and grew up in Transnistria, which declared its independence in 1990 but has never been recognized as a state.
In 2004 he moved to Italy. In 2009 he published in Italy for Einaudi "Siberian education", his first novel, written directly in Italian. The book has been translated into 19 languages and distributed in 24 countries, and ha

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