Streetwise

Mafia Memoirs

Non-Fiction - Memoir
324 Pages
Reviewed on 06/10/2013
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Author Biography

Russ Vassallo was born and raised in Newark, N.J.. He graduated from Seton Hall Law School and went on to become an insurance adjuster along with doing investigations. Ten years after graduating Law School he took the Bar Exam and went on to a 25 year career as an attorney.
When Russ retired and moved to a farm in Kentucky, he returned to his first love -- writing. Since then he has written eight books. Three are books of short stories about animals he has had during his life and their impact on him. Deep is the Dark is a psychic mystery and An April Trail in Kentucky is a winding trail of a book about moving from the city to rural Kentucky and some of the history he's learned and people he has met. Streetwise: Mafia Memoirs and Mafia Honor are his two books about growing up in a Mafia family. Memoirs of the Streets is a collection of short stories about people Russ knew growing up in the streets of Newark. These are memorable people who would have been forgotten but for Russ's book.
Russ still lives on his farm in Kentucky with his wife, dog, two cats and five horses. He spends lots of time during the spring and summer mowing the fields that are not taken for hay. During the winter he concentrates on his writing. He tries to publish a new book each year in time for the Kentucky Book Fair.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Kathryn Bennett for Readers' Favorite

"Streetwise: Mafia Memoirs" by Russell A. Vassallo is a memoir of a kid raised in a world that feared the Mafia. It was a tough life where even saving the life of a friend could mean your own life was at risk. The story tells of the deeper inner workings that move around the Mafia, not just the violence that is told of in Movies and on Television. It also discusses the loyalty, family and respect that is part of the code.

I have always been fascinated with stories of the Mafia and their families. I have watched the movies about them as well. Russell A. Vassallo has managed to do that again for me. This book held me firmly in its grip from the first word to the last. I enjoyed that the focus seemed to be more on the family ties within the Mafia. It shows how it teaches lessons of loyalty and not just the crime side. However, there is plenty of the criminal side as well because it is about the Mafia. This is one of the best memoirs I have read in a while and I am so glad I got the chance to read it and learn from it. There is no doubt that though Russell A. Vassallo was never actually in the “family” himself he walked among them on that razor's edge between the two worlds and gives us the perspective of the personalities he learned from. Anyone who enjoys a good life story will enjoy this book and I heartily recommend it.

Maria Beltran

The memoirs begin in 1940, in Newark, New Jersey, when Sicilian Russell Vassallo was but a youth: a description of a carefree life in a bustling underground culture with men who followed a code of honor, policed the streets and took justice and economy in their own hands. Once upon a time he, along with youngsters of his age, admired these men; and in their admiration they observed an unspoken code of silence about their activities. Later, he becomes a lawyer and serves a number of favors for a big boss. All throughout, characters of various backgrounds come in and out the picture, whose stories and unimaginable connections are as dangerous as they are fascinating.

Anyone who has read Mario Puzo may want to take a look at "Streetwise: Mafia Memoirs", an account of real life in the midst of mafia activity. It brings us to view an insider’s look at the culture and practices of the mafia and its complex systems. What may once have been a favor is later found out to be part of a grand scheme for the maintenance of this underground system while some hit men are given jobs that require them to take out their friends. These are among the many revelations told in a narrative that inspires fear, admiration and awe towards this culture and its members. Within the book, old photos add to the nostalgia that the author experiences in his recounting of events. A story of money, power, murder, and a sense of belonging to a family all in one box – readers will not be disappointed.

Christine Nguyen

"Streetwise: Mafia Memoirs" is a recounting of one man’s experience growing up in Newark, New Jersey, surrounded by the Italian mafia in the 1940s. Author Russell A. Vassallo portrays his growing up amidst the loyalty, respect, and code of honor of the mafia. He details his pretty close relations to mafia bosses, hit men, and other shady characters that were his by association because of his late grandfather, Rosolino Vassallo. His grandfather was a much respected man of the mafia who associated in bootlegging liquor during Prohibition and the numbers racket.

The author brings the readers detailed fascinating glimpses of what it was like living so closely associated to the mafia at a time when Italians and Catholics were treated like dirt by the Americans. The Italians somehow had to survive and carve out a living to feed their families and to exist in this new world. The Sicilians turned to their old ways and started to control illegal enterprises which they ran and controlled with an iron fist. Profit was the number one motive, but loyalty, respect, and courage were what earned a man a place in the mafia. Vassallo does not condone what the mafia did or try to justify their actions, but he offers a rare human and vulnerable side to the mafia that is compellingly addictive and refreshingly bold. The reader comes to understand that the mafia men were more than just criminals, but were survivals in a harsh time that did not permit many opportunities. He brings to life an old world mafia that was pure joy and fascination to read.