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This is a clip from the audition stage of “Bulgarian Idol”. This Idol wannabe chooses Mariah Carey’s ‘Ken Lee’. You know, the English version.

Oh, and to think I’m stressed about getting the lyrics wrong when I sing.

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iceman1

I read The Ice Man over the Christmas holidays last year, often a few chapters at night in bed followed by half an hour’s worth of surfing on Youtube watching all the Ice Man documentary videos. I’ll tell you from the outset that this is a book that is very hard to put down once you start reading it.

It is the true account of the life of Richard Kuklinski – outwardly a doting and caring father/husband to his family but secretly a top hit man for the American Mafia. He killed over 200 men – but never women and children – for the Mafia, for himself and for anyone who’ll pay his professional fees. And if you want the victim or “the mark” in hitman talk to suffer before dying, then  Kuklinski will make that happen for an extra fee.

He perfected the art of killing, using guns, knives, pipes, cyanide and poison and even using his bare hands. And then there are the caves and rats for extra gruesome killings where Kuklinski would drag his victims to, tie them up using duct tape, slice them to make them look extra delicious to the rats and leave them there with a video camera and lights on to record the whole feast as rats descend on the helpless screaming victims, devouring them alive, and leaving nothing at all in the morning except for scraps of bloody cloth and bones.

He’d kill people who being rude to him or anyone who made him angry. Rude motorists who gave him the finger were followed and shot to death at quiet light junctions. An impatient man at a night club who got on Kuklinski’s nerves was strangled to death in an alleyway as he took a leak. Another had an arrow shot into his head as he bent down near the car to answer Kuklinski’s queries about directions – just because Kuklinski wanted to try out his new cross-bow from Italy.

That was the bad Richard, as his wife Barbara called Richard. Not knowing what he did for a living and never asking for fear of inviting his violent temper, Kuklinski’s family learned to live with the two Richards – the good Richard being the caring and providing father who hosted neighbourhood barbeques and swimming parties, and the bad Richard being the one who’d come home in a foul mood and start to hit his wife and destroy furniture and his children’s toy. Standing at 6 feet 5 inches, Kuklinski was a giant of a man and you can imagine the terror he struck into the heart of his wife.

He later explained in prison that he often felt detached from the pain he caused people and had no connection at all to his victims as he inflicted pain and death on them. He had people sliced up in a bath-tub, left to hang so the blood would drip dry from the body before chopping them up at the joints (easier because then he didn’t have to saw through bones) and disposing of them in metal drums, or into mineshafts, or the sea, or in the freezer (hence the moniker ‘Ice Man’) so that he could remove the frozen body and leave it out somewhere to be found later to create the impression that the murder took place at a later time and not at the time the person was first reported missing – to create confusion in the minds of detectives.

As a child, he together with his younger brother Joseph were abused and beaten by his father Stanley Kuklinski. He claimed that Stanley “beat the humanity” out of him. I assume the same happened to Joseph who was a bi-sexual paedophile and who was later arrested for the rape, sodomy and murder of a little girl in his neighbourhood. It is in many ways a tragic story of childhood lost and a damaged adulthood spent trying to cope with the effects of abuse. Kuklinski rented a garage where he kept metal pipes and baseball bats, and he’d bring his victims there – slowly smashing the bones in their legs, arms and then hitting and damaging the rest of their bodies before killing them – with each swing of the pipes, he’d release the anger he felt towards his father. He often describe the relief he felt as he watched the “life go out in front of him.” Killing became a way for getting relief from stress and pressure. He enjoyed it thoroughly and took pride in his work, often earning S20,000 to $30,000.00 per kill.

Through an elaborate sting operation that spanned years, Kuklinski was finally caught and arrested, and put on trial. He was given the life sentence and served out the rest of his life in prison, living to the age of 70. He turned prosecution witness against mob personality Sammy “the Bull” Gravano and was about to testify in court when he died the day before the trial commenced leading to speculation (which he himself claimed numerous times) that he had been slowly poisoned while in prison. Charges against Sammy Gravano were eventually dropped.

To the very end, Kuklinski said he regretted not killing his father. And rather poignantly, he lamented that he had wished a different path in his life, where he’d be a good father and husband, living a straight life. But that was not to be – “it was not on the cards for me”, he said.

For obvious reasons, this is also a book that you’d want to talk about and share with friends the gory details. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of a serial killer who took it to an unprecedented level and almost turned it into an art-form with his meticulous methods of killing. Kuklinski makes Jack the Ripper and all other killers look very amateurish.

If you are into true crime and are intrigued by gory details of death, murder and organised crime – then get this book. I strongly recommend it.

I’m in the mood to watch the Godfather after finishing this … and to acquire a hunting knife.

n131213 What a gem this book is and how thoroughly enjoyable it was to read! So many times I’d walked past this book in the book stores but never bothered to pick it up, thinking (as I knew then) that it was being adapted as a movie starring Kal Penn as the lead character. “I’ll just watch the movie version,” I always told myself.

So when the book stores ran out of new titles for me to browse, this book got my attention again and I thought oh what the heck and got it. Am I glad I did. I’m now a fan of Ms Lahiri’s writings and plan to get her other books (collections of stories) – Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth, the only titles available here in the shops. But first, my review of The Namesake.

The story revolves around an Indian boy named Gogol, after his father’s favourite Russian author Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol and a journey that begins with a near-death experience his father Ashoke Ganguli had in surviving a train crash, his arranged marriage to Ashima and their eventual migration to Cambridge, Massuchusetts where Ashoke lectures at MIT.

Gogol is a pet name given to the boy as opposed to a public name. This is a fascinating facet of Bengali culture that I discovered from reading the book.  But in The Namesake, through a series of unintended events, the boy ends up having his pet named registered as his official name – Gogol Ganguli and the story starts from there. From the confusion and amusement it creates in school, to his later decision to do a deed poll and change his name to Nikhil Ganguli in his search for acceptance in American society … and more importantly, his search for his own identity amidst the rich Indian tradition and upbringing he inherits from his parents.

As a student studying overseas in my late teens to mid twenties, I can relate to that desire for familiar surroundings, for people who look the same, or talk the same. I guess in Gogol’s case, his desire must be manyfold more as a ABCD (Amercian-born Confused Deshi) living with conservative Indian migrant parents with strong links to India and the story is about his rebelling against it in the beginning and later, his acceptance and embrace of it – as seen through his progress from boy to adult, and through the relationships he has with his parents, and girlfriends and then his spouse.

It is a coming of age story in some ways. And in other ways, it’s about human relationships and our search for happiness and a place under the sun. I loved this book and dreaded its end as the pages started dwindling. The characters are colourful, their personalities memorable.The story is unforgettable .. and beautiful.

It is a wondrous journey that Gogol undertook and I followed him diligently every night without fail. It is a hard book to stop reading once you start. The end is charming and I closed it so reluctantly, feeling like I need to be there to continue the journey with the Gangulis to wherever Ms Lahiri may choose to take us. It’s that good.

I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. I feel as if I earned it, truly.

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