Bonnie Gayle's Reviews > City of Thieves

City of Thieves by David Benioff
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Aug 25, 08

bookshelves: historical-fiction, library-books, reviewed, favorites
Read in August, 2008

Lev lives in Piter (St. Petersburg/Leningrad) Russia during the siege of WW2, and is arrested for theft. The punishment for this should be death, but instead, he and a soldier charged with desertion, named Kolya, are given a fool's errand: find and bring back a dozen eggs in less than a week (in a country where people are eating mud to survive), for a colonel's daughter's wedding cake.

This was a truly fantastic book, and, as such, is a rare instant add to my favorites list.

Like with all of the best books, the reader is taken on an emotional journey, in addition to the actual journey the characters go on. The book deals with the atrocities of war, to be sure, but there was also humor and romance and teasing and pettiness. It felt very true to life: you can't focus on how horrible war is constantly, or you'd go nuts. You still have to live, and the characters have real life and depth to them. Lev and Kolya are really believable characters, and also really likeable, and the same is true for all the secondary characters. They could carry the story just on that likeability alone, but in addition to that, the story is just completely well written. I kept cynically waiting for a lag, but it never came. There’s always something to keep you interested, and keep you reading.

The story is mainly about Lev and Kolya, their relationship, their fears and growth, but the war and location never feel like a backdrop. There are little details sprinkled throughout, at times gruesome, at times humorous, that not only a reader with little to no knowledge of the war (myself), but also someone with a great knowledge of WW2, could take some new knowledge away.

Finally, I just did a whole bunch of searching, and I still can't find out whether this book really is about the author's grandfather. I was wondering whether that was the case, because the book begins with 'a writer' going to talk to his grandfather, who then proceeds to tell him about a week of his life during WW2, which is the story that follows. I am (probably overly) critical of books told in the first person, as if the character were talking directly to the reader, for no discernable reason. So, I thought to myself, what an interesting method to explain why the story is in first person, because first person works so well here, since it draws the reader in, and makes the events in the book seem more real and present. Then I began to wonder. David Benioff / Lev Beniov? Is 'the writer' in the book, actually THE writer? In the end, despite my searching, I couldn't figure out one way or the other, and I guess, in the long run, it really doesn't matter. It just shows how much I liked the book that I would find it believable enough to question whether it was fiction or not. I *did* discover that the author is married to Amanda Peet...what a strange twisty world it is.
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