Laurel's Reviews > City of Thieves

City of Thieves by David Benioff
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's review
Jun 20, 14

bookshelves: fiction, historical-fiction
Read from June 01 to 03, 2010

This is a gripping read. I had trouble putting it down.

The story is set in Russia during WWII after the Nazi's have overtaken Leningrad. When Lev Beniov is arrested for looting, he is thrown in jail with an alleged Russian army deserter named Kolya. Rather than being executed the next morning as Lev is expecting, they are instead ordered to fulfill a surprising and ridiculous mission. In the midst of chaos, war, brutality, death and starvation, they must find a dozen eggs for a colonel to use for his daughter's wedding cake.

Sounds a bit bizarre, doesn't it? A WWII egg hunt? But it works, and really well. I was mesmerized from beginning to end as these two young men embark on their mission and encounter one brutal, hair-raising scenario after another.

What was most interesting to me about this book, however, was the coming-of-age relationship between Lev and Kolya. Lev is a shy, pensive and somewhat innocent boy of 17, while Kolya is slightly older, reckless, much more experienced and, at times, outrageous in his behavior and commentary. In the course of their journey, Kolya openly (and a bit crudely) teaches a reluctant Lev what he knows about women, and as their friendship grows, Lev also learns from Kolya important lessons about bravery and loyalty.

There is some foul language in this book, and as mentioned above, some rather crude comments about women and sex. Some may find this offensive. However, if you remove it, I think you lose part of what made Kolya seem so genuine, real and flawed. I personally never felt offended by any of his remarks. He sometimes made me cringe, but I still found him oddly endearing. And funny. Really funny. Kolya is without a doubt a very likable protagonist, even if (or perhaps in part because) he can at times be a little inappropriate.

There's a lot of violence in this book as well. This is to be expected in any war novel, of course. But the violence here is not just of your typical battle scene. There is murder, starvation, cannibalism, animal cruelty, and even (in one particular scene) intensely disturbing abuse of a young teenage girl by Nazi soldiers. And yet, these were and often can be the realities of war and extreme famine. The violence never felt gratuitous to me and, despite it all, there was enough humor and tenderness in-between all the brutality to make it ultimately heart-warming and even uplifting by the book's end.

In fact, it is not the violence nor the language that will most vividly stay in my mind. It's the wonderful story-telling, the characters, the relationship between Lev and Kolya, and the message of the power of friendship, loyalty and humor in the midst of dire circumstances. While I can't recommend this to everyone, I do think it's most definitely a worthwhile, well-written and touching story.
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Reading Progress

06/02/2010 page 4
06/02/2010 page 5
71.43% "This book is both gripping and haunting. Just got through the farmhouse scene and need to pause for a breather."
06/03/2010 page 8
100% 4 comments

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Sarah SO GOOD.

Laurel That's what I've heard!

Annalisa I'm curious to see what you think. Lucy said the language was foul so I haven't put it on my list, but I hear it's good.

Laurel I've only just started (about an hour into the audio), but so far I am loving it.

Lucy It really is good. I'm listening to another novel set in Russia right now, Child 44, and it reminds me how much I did like this book, language notwithstanding.

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