In 1971, 10-year-old Allen Kurzweil arrived at a Swiss boarding school called Aiglon. He was a Jewish boy from New York; his father had died, and his mother was “test-driving her third husband.” Kurzweil was happy to be back in the Alps—his Viennese father had brought him there for winter holidays and imbued him with a love of alpine hiking and skiing.
Soon, however, Kurzweil (the youngest student at Aiglon) was being tormented by one of his roommates, 12-year-old Cesar Augustus, a native of Manila. Cesar’s abuse came in many forms, both physical and psychological, and Kurzweil begins Whipping Boy by taking readers back to that monumental time in his life.
Kurzweil leaves the school after a year, but the memories of being bullied continue to haunt him, even as an adult. As a novelist, he writes a children’s book featuring a bully modeled after his nemesis. When Kurzweil decides to look into what became of the real Cesar, he discovers that he’s in federal prison for his part in a bizarre international swindling scheme.
Kurzweil’s long-term pursuit of this strange story and his eventual confrontation of Cesar reads like a thriller, full of intrigue as well as humor and self-reflection. “Why am I still pursuing Cesar?” the author asks himself. “Is it to uncover his story? To avoid my own? The bottom line is this: I’m not sure what I’m after. Nor can I explain what compels me to travel cross-country to spy on the actions of a convicted felon I have promised my wife I will not confront.”
Kurzweil puts both his journalistic and literary skills to wonderful use in his “investigative memoir,” making numerous trips to revisit his school and to interview old classmates, staff, swindling victims, prosecutors and federal agents.
Kurzweil’s final meeting with Cesar is a worthy finale, bound to prompt plenty of meaningful discussions among readers about the nature of childhood, bullying and memories.