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Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra


Other reports and reviews of this book have hinted at or accused the author of fabricating events to facilitate this supposed true story.  But whether this is or isn’t a completely true story it is a good read.


Don’t start reading this if you’re expecting an in depth account of organised crime and it’s proponents. Instead pour yourself a drink, put your feet up, open the book and allow yourself to be transported back to the early sixties. To a part of New York called Hell’s Kitchen where there were still people by the names of King Benny and Fat Mancho. Where a lot of men drank and gambled most of their wages away and mothers and children were beaten by these all too often drunk men.


And yet it was an area with a “structured code of behaviour and an unwritten set of rules that could be physically enforced.” Within this neighbourhood there were four young friends, three of them eleven and one only eight. The streets became their playground the violence around them a backdrop to their childish pursuits. Eventually the environment persuaded them to avail themselves of earning some cash working for King Benny the man who ran Hell’s Kitchen.


Indulgence in their petty crimes led to their downfall when an innocent man is injured and they end up in a Juvenile Correction facility. Here they were bullied, beaten and sexually abused by the guards. These chapters are brutal and blunt and though perhaps not as graphic as some crime novels no punches are pulled as we learn of the ill treatment meted out to these young men.


This story (factual account?) flows in an easy to read style, descriptive, fast paced. The characters are strong and believable (well it is supposed to be about real people so you would hope they are believable), the narrative never flags nor bogs us down in unnecessary embellishments but adds enough local colour and history to bring the time and place to life.


I saw a review comparing this with the story/film Stand By Me, which was also a kind of coming of age tale about four young men. But really that’s where the comparison ends. These boys live in a brutal violent environment, they commit crimes, they go through an unimaginable hell in the correctional facility and their lives are left blighted by the experiences. This is more like a preview or an explanation of how the characters in the Sopranos were formed.


If you’ve a free weekend or a long journey to make and you want an interesting fast paced read this could be your book. 

Edited by MisterHobgoblin

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