Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old
Bully" by Allen Kurzweil; HarperCollins Publishers
(309 pages, $27.99)
with a childhood bully in his or her past might
instantly relate to the premise behind Allen Kurzweil’s
memoir: A victim of bullying confronts the schoolboy
sadist who tormented him a lifetime ago.
said that living well is the best revenge, but that won’t
do for Kurzweil; he is determined to screw his oppressor
to the rack. You, the reader, are invited to savor this
revenge fantasy and admire its daring execution.
formulating his scheme, Kurzweil resembles another
avenger, Montresor from Edgar Allan Poe’s "The
Cask of Amontillado," the madman who requites a
perceived insult by entombing his foe alive in a
may be the Lord’s," Kurzweil writes in a gothic
flourish, "but in His infinite wisdom, He sometimes
outsources order fulfillment to mere mortals."
account is a well-told tale, rich with human drama, a
genuine detective story. And you’ve got to admire him
for sheer gumption.
book’s flagellatory title describes the defining
moment in this bully-victim dynamic, played out in 1971
at Aiglon College, an English boarding school in the
Swiss Alps. As a 10-year-old, Kurzweil was tied to a
dormitory bunk bed while his 12-year-old nemesis, Cesar,
flogged him with a belt in a re-enactment of the
"Thirty-Nine Lashes" scene from the Andrew
Lloyd Webber musical "Jesus Christ Superstar."
were as much a part of the performance as those moments
when the belt made contact," Kurzweil recalls.
"Introducing randomness into the rhythm of abuse
appeared to delight Cesar as much as the abuse
sleuthing shines when he pieces together Cesar’s adult
life as a professional con man, sentenced to 37 months
in a federal prison for his role in an elaborate
financial fraud. The bully-turned-felon was a recruiter
of dupes for an outlandish cast of make-believe
noblemen, counterfeit diplomats and pseudo-financiers
who swindled clients to the tune of $4 million.
there’s any catharsis for Kurzweil, it has to be
weighed against the emotional price the author pays for
his extensive efforts to match his Ivy League wits
against the wiles of this master manipulator.
time, the whipping boy’s mission disintegrates from a
high-minded research project to an unhealthy obsession.
As he watches himself turning into a literary stalker,
Kurzweil grows disgusted with his duplicity.
the while, Kurzweil grossly underestimates his rival. At
one point, Kurzweil confides in a conspiratorial stage
whisper: "I need to reel him in slowly."
he finally goes mano-a-mano with Cesar, Kurzweil is
unable to pin down his slimy adversary. The convicted
felon claims not even to remember that Kurzweil was his
roommate at the Swiss boarding school. As for his legal
troubles, Cesar blames everyone but himself: former
clients, prosecutors and jurors.
their final encounter, a flummoxed Kurzweil squabbles
with Cesar over a wristwatch stolen at Aiglon some four
decades earlier. By this point, Cesar is back in his
familiar role, inflicting emotional abuse.
made my life hell," Kurzweil seethes.
basically I’m being blamed for your memories?"
Cesar calmly asks.
it doesn’t sound like you’re writing about me,"
Cesar responds. "This is really only your
interpretation based on your recollection of
a parting gesture, Cesar apologizes — by voice mail.
Yet another shrewd move that gets him off the hook
without admitting wrongdoing.
is grateful for this scrap of remorse, "releasing
me from a prison of vengeance that I’ve inhabited
since the Nixon administration."
the very last, Kurzweil fails to realize that his moral
lexicon lacks the one word that had always held the key
to his freedom: forgiveness