A New Yorker writer investigates the life and career of his hit-man great-uncle and the impact on his family.
Growing up in a household as generic as Midwestern Jews get, author Eric Konigsberg always wished there was something different about his family, something exotic and mysterious, even shocking. When he was sent off to boarding school, he learned from an ex-cop security guard that there was: His great-uncle Harold, in prison in upstate New York, was a legendary Mafia enforcer, suspected by the FBI of upwards of twenty murders.
Konigsberg had uncovered a shameful, long-hidden family secret. His grandfather, a Jewish Horatio Alger story who had become a respected merchant through honesty and hard work, never spoke of his baby brother. When other relatives could be coaxed into talking about him, he wasn't "Kayo" Konigsberg, the "smartest hit man" and "toughest Jew" described by cops and associates; he was Uncle Heshy, the loudmouth nogoodnik and smalltime con, long since written off as dead. Intrigued, Konigsberg ignored his family's protests and arranged a meeting, which inspired the acclaimed New Yorker piece this book is based on.
In Blood Relation, Konigsberg portrays Harold as a fascinating, paradoxical character: both brutal and winning, a cold-blooded killer and a larger-than-life charmer who taught himself to read as an adult and served as his own lawyer in two major trials, to riotous effect. Functioning by turns as Kayo's pursuer, jailhouse scribe, pawn, and antagonist, Konigsberg traces his great-uncle's checkered and outlandish life and investigates his impact on his family and others who crossed his path, weaving together strands of family, Jewish identity, justice, and post-war American history.
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Eric Konigsberg grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and he lives in New York City with his wife and son. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Tin House.Review:
A deeply weird, terrific story ... scrupulously reported and wonderfully told, with wiseguys as vivid as any in Elmore Leonard. (William Finnegan)
Terrifying, moral, and funny... affirms our faith in the power of the best nonfiction to move and delight us. (Walter Kirn)
Written so well, with such care and emotional precision. (Geoffrey Wolff)
“A portrait of evil that is never banal, Blood Relation plays out like Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” in reverse. (Edward Conlon)
Konigsberg’s inspired reporting cracks a window on the bedlam of post-war organized crime ... vivid, haunting, funny, magnificently original. (Katherine Boo)
The most personal and affecting account of Mob violence you’re going to get until The Sopranos returns (whenever that is). (GQ)
Skillful ... Readers get to enjoy the creepy thrills without actually having to meet [Konigsberg’s gangster uncle] face-to-face. (Kirkus Reviews)
A chronicle of criminal behavior ... but also a moving story of coming to terms with one’s roots. (Booklist)
A picture of the classic gangster, an excellent study not only of crime but of family and Jewish identity. (Library Journal)
One of the 20 best books coming out this fall. (GQ)
“Absorbing and marvelously told [in] graceful, perfectly pitched prose . . . a mesmerizing expedition.” (New York Times Book Review)
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