“Being wiseguy was better than being president of United States” is a profound statement from the classic American mafia novel “Wiseguy” written by an American journalist Nicholas Pileggi. This book is based on the life of Henry Hill a member of a mafia family and gives a perfect insider view of life within a mafia family.
The basic plot of this book is simplistic and begins with a member of a mafia Henry Hill telling his story of his life in the mafia. The story of Hill in the mafia began at the tender age of 11 in 1955 out of sheer fascination for the mafia world when he began working for Paul Vario a man who ran most of the rackets in Hill’s Irish/Italian neighborhood. It was Paul who slowly introduced young Hill to hijacking trucks and selling stolen goods especially cigarettes. It was finally 1959 that Hill was first arrested for using stolen credit cards. It was his refusal to cooperate with the police that earned him respect in the minds of Paul and one of his associate called Jimmy Burke. On the personal front Hill fell in love with a girl named Karen Friedman a Jewish girl whom he eventually marries and has two children Gregg in 1966 and Gina in 1968.He also manages to maintain a mistress by the name of Linda Coppociano as was the norm for most men in the mafia.
It was 1964 that he met Tommy DeSimone an ambitious gangster with a psychopathic streak in him. It was along with Tommy that Hill began hijacking trucks and selling these stolen goods on the street. In April of 1967 with Jimmy Burke acting as the mastermind Hill along with Tommy, Robert McMahon, and Montague Montemurro carried out a heist at the Air France cargo terminal at John. F. Kennedy International Airport. The rest of the book deals with how the mafia really works, the ingenious schemes, the brutal murders etc and more importantly the downfall of the mobster or in common terminology known as the “Wiseguy”.
Overall the book is a fascinating read more so because the story is being told by an insider who actually lived the life within the mafia ever since his teenage years. Also the fact that the story is being told by the author in two different perspectives i.e. Hill and his wife Karen which gives the reader a contrast on how two individuals look at things differently. Another interesting fact was that while Hill was fascinated by the mafia world he always thought that what he was doing was just his duty which made him completely detached from emotions. While Karen on the other hand was not aware about this world and so she had to gradually accept the way of life of her husband and, hence from being emotional at the start of the relationship she eventually too became emotionally detached. So detached did she become that eventually she accepted the fact that her husband had a mistress with the view that after all she is his wife and so he we will never abandon her for the other woman which she had come to accept as part and parcel in the life within the mafia. Since the author is a journalist the language used is simplistic and makes for fairly good reading. Also the fact that Hill has described all the minute details encompassed in living in a mafia family makes this book an intriguing read too.
So with Wiseguy having been adapted in cinema in the form the Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece “Goodfellas” this book has certainly acquired a cult status in the world of books especially in the mafia genre. We can thereby only hope that this cult continues to grow even further in the near future as well.
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