About My Book Reviews

Monday, March 29, 2021

Whipping Boy by Allen Kurzweil

Title: Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for my Twelve-Year-Old Bully

Author: Allen Kurzweil

Published: 2015

Genre: Memoir

Grade Level: Adult

-Movie Rating: PG-13


Blurb (from goodreads):

Abused as a ten-year-old at a prestigious English boarding school nestled in the Swiss Alps, Allen Kurzweil, author of the acclaimed bestseller A Case of Curiosities, takes the reader around the world—from the Vienna Woods to the slums of Manila to the boardroom of the world's largest law firm high above New York City—to locate and confront his long-lost tormentor, a twelve-year-old named Cesar Augustus (who tied him up and whipped him to the strains of Jesus Christ Superstar).

What begins as an anxiety-fueled quest for revenge takes an elaborate detour when the author discovers that Cesar has recently been released from federal prison for his role in a byzantine scheme perpetrated by a felonious duke, a Congolese king, a fugitive prince who traces his roots back to Vlad the Impaler, and a spats-wearing baron born in Toledo, Ohio.

You can’t make this stuff up (unless you’re a world-class swindler). A scrupulously researched work of non-fiction that reads like a John Le CarrĂ© novel, Whipping Boy is more than a tale of karmic retribution. It is a heartfelt and darkly comic meditation on forgetfulness and memory, trauma and recovery, born of suffering and nourished by obsession, and resolved in a final act of courage.

Disclaimer: My review of this memoir is not in any way a reflection upon the author or their life. I am a book reviewer, I review books… not people.


My Scores:

Writing Style: Solid

The writing style of this memoir certainly reflected that Kurzweil is a journalist. It carries the same kind of tone, organization, wit, and verbiage that befits the profession. I liked that I was still able to gage his personality through the objective language. He was honest, detail-oriented, and had such tunnel-vision that it made me wonder if he could possibly have OCD.

This novel did remind me a lot of Brain on Fire, another memoir that was written by a journalist, Susannah Cahalan. A terrific novel that I highly recommend. 

Characters: Fully Developed

(I known they’re real people. I’m referring to them as character’s anyway.)

Something about the journalist style of this novel seems to have hindered my emotional connection towards these characters. It’s not that these characters didn’t have memorable moments, or that they weren’t sufficiently well-developed, but that they were presented so matter-of-factly. I wanted there to be moments of raw, unorganized passion, and all I got was witty objectivity.

I did feel sympathy towards the MC, Allen Kurzweil, because of the trauma he experienced. However, there were also moments where his obsession in finding closure in all the wrong places drove me crazy.


Plot: A Page-Tuner

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the beginning and the end of this novel. That’s where he talked about his experiences, how they affected him, and what he should take away from those experiences (or what he should leave behind). It’s these kinds of moments that make a memoir worth reading.

The middle felt like a really long rabbit tail to nowhere. This is where the “elaborate detour” about Cesar’s connection to the “byzantine scheme” mentioned above in the Goodreads’ blurb takes place. It was interesting at first, but his need to find something that wasn’t there quickly got old. I don’t know how his family was able to tolerate him. But I am glad they did because the ending was worth slogging through it.

Overall: Enjoyable

Overall, I did enjoy reading this novel. It’s certainly different from other memoirs I have read in the past. If you’re interested in reading this novel, I would just say that (like me) you may not like every aspect but it’s still a good book in the end.


Goodreads Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


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