This is the story of the years of Nicolai in Transnistria, when he was inserted in the criminal community of Urea people. Growing up in that context means a lot, particularly when the main character compares himself to external figures. In those moment he truly understands the merit of a "siberian education".
Let's say that the Urea clan is not a standard criminal organization, but it's a sort of tribe with a significant culture, traditions and even a specific and exclusive language. A society on its own, where there are Siberians, who are generally "honest criminals" (yes, a distorted conception of crime is present here), and the others, with other rules or more often, without any rule or principle. To be clear: the others are not part of the Urea community. A true Siberian man here is a man of honor, principles like I said, who loves and respects his traditions. A true Siberian man is loyal to his friends and family, he admires the old men of the community because of their experience and wiseness in the field, he even respects women (!!) because of their care for children and the family and the house. There are women who even helped some criminal in their pathways. He doesn't tolerate an unjustified violence, it has to be motivated and with a solid reason. Surely there are contradictions: for example homosexuality is considered like a sin but people with handicaps are treated not simply good, but they are seen like creatures of God, almost untouchable. And obviously this old concept of "right war" and "wrong war" is controversial, and doubting of the truth of these criminal laws is felt like a betrayal, an offense.
I've said Nicolai and the author is Nicolai Lilin, but it doesn't imply that all the fact told in this book are autobiographical and then true. Lilin doesn't clarify it and I don't know, maybe it is possible that he liked to think that others could believe in his story like a "non-fictional" narration. It's definitely fictional, and it's very evident in the story. Many elements are true: particulary in the main features of a Siberian character and in the food habits. But the characters are a bit fake, pepier-mache and I believe that it's a negative point related to the not so talented style, even if it has its fluidity. But it is generally plain and sometimes it gives that sensation of pretense. Maybe I was influenced by all the matter involved in the specific case, others have felt the entire book as a hoax, because of the fictional/non-fictional fact. It wouldn't be better even if it were considered as a historical or autobiographic work.
Besides it's not even clear how the criminal business are managed, and the whole novel was a collection of mission of the young Urea or mission assigned to them, to such an extent that it seems that Urea people were always busy only managing the relationships and tensions with the other communities. They have to gain their money from an activity and this is only mentioned. It was strange in a novel who wanted to talk about a criminal group.
I have to admith that It was more readable than I expected before starting it, but surely not outstanding. And actually all the group of Urea was similar to an unbelievable fairy tale. Or maybe I'm being too skeptical.