It’s the early 2000s. Think of the epitome of low class USA: domestic violence, street fights, petty crime, ethnic and racial bigotry, foul language, alcohol and drug abuse, low-wage jobs, flashy cars, and women appraised by their bra size. But there’s also ambition. Despite his surroundings, twenty-something-year-old Bosnian refugee Adnan Ališić is making a success of his new life in Glendale, Arizona. As a used car dealer, he provides much needed jobs and inexpensive means of transportation to other working class immigrants. But success means lots of free time and spending money, and Ališić soon becomes a regular at the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Casino Arizona in the Scottsdale area. Soon his business is in shambles, and he’s gambling money that isn’t his. In a true addict’s fashion, Ališić blames the casino. Since winning back “his money” has proven impossible, he starts plotting to steal it.
You might have read about it in the news: On July 21, 2006, Ališić and three accomplices robbed $700,000 from an armored vehicle. Their escape plan botched up, and all four were caught and tried. Ališić was eventually sent to a federal prison in Lompoc, California (think Santa Barbara) where he currently is still serving out his seventeen-year sentence.
That might have been the end of it, as far as the general American public is concerned, but someone in the media had made a connection to Ocean’s Eleven. Whether that became the spark of inspiration or an idea for a marketing ploy, I don’t know. But Ališić soon got started on a tell-all memoir, released as Arizona Dream: A True Story of a Real-Life “Ocean's Eleven” (Dog Ear Publications, 2014).
The book is actually three stories in one: The Arizona years are mixed up with flashbacks to the Bosnian War (1992-1995) when Ališić’s family was desperately trying to make ends meet in the war-torn former Yogoslavia and when teen Ališić endured some stomach-churning torture at the hands of Bosnian Serbs, who were trying to eliminate the Muslim Bosniak population. Then the ending is drawn out with tales of Ališić’s prison experiences.
While it sports 400+ pages, this biography does manage to keep a quick pace. Ališić jumps right into the action. Yet excitement doesn’t guarantee the most pleasant read. Ališić is an ESL speaker and an amateurish writer in the unflattering sense of the term. Arizona Dream is plagued with cluttering adjectives, awkward sentence structure, and some poor word choice. The back and forth between times and places weren’t written in the expert manner of more accomplished writers. It was just plain confusing. This was worsened by the fact that Ališić is extremely vague about names and dates. I had to Google the heist to get a better idea of what actually happened. And the author also seems to think that most Americans know far more about Bosnia than we actually do. After all, some of us were kids back then too! Even his wrap up of the post-heist legal proceedings left me with more questions than answers. It was as if he was purposely trying to leave out some of the most relevant information to his story.
But all this might be forgivable if there was a protagonist with whom I as a reader could empathize. And that is where the Arizona Dream really failed. Sure, I can warm up a little to war veteran Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) and cuckolded husband Danny Ocean (George Clooney), even though they were plotting to rob their respective casinos. But I just couldn’t get passed Adnan Ališić violent nature and over-blown sense of entitlement. The ending suggests that he has since changed for the better, and I hope that’s true. But for purposes of his own “Ocean’s Eleven” experience, all I could think was that he got what he deserved.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Bostick Communications. There was no obligation to write a favorable review.