RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In 1971, 10-year-old Allen Kurzweil was a new student, the youngest at a boarding school in Switzerland. And he had a problem named Cesar Augustus.
ALLEN KURZWEIL: Almost at once, he dominated my life
MARTIN: Cesar Augustus was Allen Kurzweil's 12-year-old bully. Kurzweil says Cesar started tormenting him soon after they met and it culminated in one particularly brutal incident.
KURZWEIL: He tied me up to a bedpost and whipped me to the soundtrack of a song in "Jesus Christ Superstar."
MARTIN: Allen Kurzweil left that school after a year, but the memory of the abuse haunted him well into adulthood. In his new memoir, "Whipping Boy," the novelist revisited the episode and detailed his decades-long quest to confront his bully.
KURZWEIL: For a long time, I would tell this story with an almost frivolous quality. I tried to subliminate the anguish to man-up, to not confront the anguish I felt. And that didn't work. It was one of the reasons I decided to seek Cesar out.
MARTIN: So fast-forward decades. You discovered Cesar to be part of this group of people that had devised this fraud. And it landed him in federal prison for his role. But can you just - it's really complicated and crazy in so many ways. But can you just give us a thumbnail sketch of how this scam worked and his role in it?
KURZWEIL: Thumbnail is impossible.
KURZWEIL: It's just not possible. I mean, one of the reasons it took me so long to write the book is I had to juggle how I'm going to describe a scam in which a man, who goes by Prince Robert and who wears a cape and a monocle in conjunction with the Colonel, who in point of fact was a former assistant store manager from RadioShack, claim to be the overseers of an international bank based in Switzerland. Everything seems to go back to Switzerland.
MARTIN: (Laughter) That is a weird coincidence.
KURZWEIL: And they had assets of - in excess of $60 billion. And as I discovered, proof of the worth of their bank took the form of a single-page special deed of trust from the Kingdom of Mombessa. For the benefit of the listeners, I should point out that there is no Kingdom of Mombessa. And the crazy thing is I know all of this because I was given access to all of the criminal proceedings and the court records, the discovery materials. Why? Because all of them, without exception, had Cesars in their past. This was their opportunity to redress their own childhood injustices.
MARTIN: You end up finding him. You find Cesar. In some ways, you found - well, in many ways, he was a diminished figure when held up to the memory of who he was to you when you were a child. This was not the super villain that you remembered, was he?
KURZWEIL: No. He was more Eeyore rather than Dr. Evil. I was traveling cross country to talk to a man who had just spent a considerable amount of time in a federal penitentiary and had no visible means of support. But I also realized I was talking to a man who had made many people's lives miserable. We joke about the dirty-rotten-scoundrel-dom of the scam, but at the other end of this scheme, there were dozens of people who were devastated by the money that was stolen from them. There was a fellow who started crying when he recalled the fact that he squandered the last three months of his wife's life. She was, at that point, dying of multiple myeloma, being pulled by the nose by Cesar and these other scoundrels.
MARTIN: When did you make it clear that what had brought you to that meeting was that you felt harmed as a kid and you wanted him to own it?
KURZWEIL: Well, that - that was the hardest question to ask of all. And I had to be strong-armed by my wife, by my editors to ask those questions, to say, hey, you did a number on me. And I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that he denied all culpability.
MARTIN: He just said he didn't remember a lot of it.
KURZWEIL: More than that - he didn't remember me. He didn't remember rooming with me. In fact, he denied rooming with me in the same way that he stood before the sentencing judge and said he had done nothing wrong. But he left me a halfhearted apology after our last meeting.
MARTIN: So what did you think when you heard that message?
KURZWEIL: I was liberated when I heard it. I have to say I felt 30 pounds lighter.
MARTIN: So had you healed? You had healed in this process without knowing it?
KURZWEIL: No. I healed in this process and knew it. I healed, as so many writers do, by writing through that anguish, confronting him but confronting myself as well.
MARTIN: Allen Kurzweil. His new memoir is called "Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search For My 12-Year-Old Bully." He spoke with us from Rhode Island Public Radio in Providence. Allen, thanks so much for talking with us and sharing this story.
KURZWEIL: Thank you, Rachel.
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