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Archive 08-19 GR Discussions > City of Thieves discussion

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message 1: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Welcome to our discussion of City of Thieves!

What were your overall impressions of the book? What are the most memorable scenes from the story?


message 2: by Mish (new)

Mish I’m up to page 163 and absolutely love it so far. You have good balance of light and dark moments. Dark moments are their surroundings – the hunger, pain and desperation from the people and destruction of their homes and buildings (very sad). And then you have these 2 adorable yet completely opposite characters that shed light and humour into this story with their bickering, teasing and adventure – I think it’s marvellous

Memorable scene...I'll need to get back to you on that. there're so many


message 3: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments I'm glad you are enjoying it, Mish. It certainly was a fast read for me, I had a hard time putting it down.

I think the most memorable scene for me (and it is one that you have already read) is the part where Lev and Kolya enter the cannibal's apartment. Everything from the expression on the woman's face to the hanging white sheet that was concealing the horrific "meat" still remains in my mind.


message 4: by Mish (new)

Mish Gillian wrote: "I'm glad you are enjoying it, Mish. It certainly was a fast read for me, I had a hard time putting it down.

I think the most memorable scene for me (and it is one that you have already read) is th..."


Yes…I agree. That was a horrific scene and totally unexpected too


message 5: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments I finished yesterday. This is very well written, especially the dialogue. For some reason, despite the quality of the book, something in me resisted entering the story. Maybe I am on WW2 overload, or just chalk it up to PMS. The situation is ludocrous, every plan to get the eggs more ludocrous, everything about human war is revealed as ludocrous in its light. I think the most memorable sceen for me was the final meeting between Lev and the Cornel. War is pointless brutality that cheepens human life.


message 6: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Irene, do you mean that you found the premise and plot of the story too unbelievable to enjoy?


message 7: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments Not exactly. It was something much more on a gut level. I started the book, saw that it was set during WW2 and something clicked off. Had there not been this discussion, I would have put it on the side for a later read. It was if I psychologically kept it at arms length and never could jump that bar.


message 8: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Gillian wrote: "I'm glad you are enjoying it, Mish. It certainly was a fast read for me, I had a hard time putting it down.

I think the most memorable scene for me (and it is one that you have already read) is th..."


Oh my gosh that was a horrible scene but when I thought about it further, I can't help but think that something like that might (probably?) did happen.


message 9: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Lisa wrote: "Gillian wrote: "I'm glad you are enjoying it, Mish. It certainly was a fast read for me, I had a hard time putting it down.
I think the most memorable scene for me (and it is one that you have alr..."


Lisa, according to the wikipedia page on the Siege of Leningrad cannibalism was a problem during this period.

It states, "Reports of cannibalism appeared in the winter of 1941–1942, after all birds, rats and pets had been eaten by survivors.[48] Hungry gangs attacked and ate defenceless people.[49] Leningrad police even formed a special unit to combat cannibalism.[50]"

You can read more about the Siege of Leningrad here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of...


message 10: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments How would you characterize the relationship between Lev and Kolya? Why do you think Lev initially did not like Kolya?


Elizabeth (Alaska) When I was taking high school French, my teacher told us she had lived in Algeria during WWII. Her parents told her never to buy sausage from the street vendors, but one day she was too hungry to resist. She said the sausage tasted unusually sweet. A couple of days later that vendor was arrested, having several corpses in his possession.


message 12: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments Kolya is the dominant partner in the relationship. He is charismatic and overly confident. Although Lev is only a few years younger, he lacks the worldliness of Kolya. Lev submits to Kolya because he does not know how to assert himself. Lev' is aware of his inadequacies in light of Kolya's apparent resources of endless ideas, experiences, easy way with words and network of friends. I think that Lev's initial dislike of Kolya is due to this sense of inferiority. Kolya is brave, creative, sexually experienced, and a natural leader, as well as physically stronger and better looking.


message 13: by Beth (new)

Beth  (techeditor) | 30 comments I read this about 2 years ago and was disappointed. I had read so many really great reviews, my expectations were set too high. To me, this book wasn't bad, but it was no great shakes.


message 14: by Mandy (new)

Mandy Petrocelli I really wasn't crazy about this book through almost the first half. I was not particularly enamored of either of the two main characters, and as I have said before, that makes a huge difference in whether I enjoy the book. The second half, however, I really liked. Maybe Lev and Koya grew on me.

The story was certainly interesting and moved well. The ending was particularly tragic and moving. I think this book makes a strong statement about the capriciousness of war, but not in a tiresome, heavy-handed way. If only the entire book was as good as the last half.


message 15: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments Mandy, Do you know what it was about the second half that made you enjoy it so much more than the first half?


message 16: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Some readers describe the book as a coming of age story. Do you agree or disagree? Why?


message 17: by Mandy (new)

Mandy Petrocelli Irene wrote: "Mandy, Do you know what it was about the second half that made you enjoy it so much more than the first half?"

I really do think the characters began to grow on me. Kolya's kind of arrogant facade faded a bit to show a softer, more protective side; there was less insecure boy rivalry. As the boys warmed to each other, I warmed to them. After getting past the exposition and introduction of characters, the book focused more on plot - which, again, I found more enjoyable than the characters' personalities.

I greatly enjoyed the last third of the book, so even I find it odd that I was so lukewarm to the first half. Not sure if I can articulate more clearly why.


message 18: by Vered (new)

Vered (vered_ehsani) Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "When I was taking high school French, my teacher told us she had lived in Algeria during WWII. Her parents told her never to buy sausage from the street vendors, but one day she was too hungry to r..."

That's beyond gross.


message 19: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments I guess it comes down to survival, right? If you are hungry and starving to death you may go to great lengths to survive.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Yes, and I'm sorry that was sort of off-topic, but I wanted to confirm the practice of cannibalism during WWII, even if my anecdote was in a different geographical area.

It's been a couple of years since I read this. I think my most memorable scene(s) was with the girls at the house in the country.


message 21: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Which parts of the book do you recall as being especially humorous, if any? Why do you think the author used humor to tell this story?


message 22: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments There were places where I knew the author was going for humor such as when they learn that their rescued chicken is a rooster or when Kolya cons the vender out of the drink of rot gut. But, I did not find any of it funny. For me, it just pointedout how ludocrous war really is.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Irene, do you think that was the author's point?


message 24: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments Why do you think the author attempted to use humor when telling a tale about war?


message 25: by Vered (new)

Vered (vered_ehsani) It reminds me of a movie (it may have also been a book) called "A Beautiful Life" (I think that's what it was called) about a man and his son who are in a Nazi concentration camp, and how the man protects his son through humour and turns this nasty experience into an almost-comedy. Somehow the contrast makes the reality even more poignant.


message 26: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments I really do not know what the author intended. I don't think I have a handle on this book. I do think it is about something more than an adventure with two young men in war-time Russia. And, it seems to be about something more than friendship. There are just too many contrasts, particularly the desparate hunt for a dozen eggs only to find that the official already has collected 4 dozen eggs. You have one young girl skating in fur and 4 girls being raped and a fifth having her feet sawed off. You have military officials eating imported foods and fine wines and civilians fighting over the paste in book bindings. You have foot soldiers shooting at a faceless enemy while dreaming of girls back home, exactly what they should have been thinking of if they had gone off to college or to earn a living. The ones who run the war don't seem to suffer from the war or even fight the war. The chess game seemed to be some metaphore for the way ordinary people become pawns in somebody else's game.

I did see "A Beautiful Life". But in that movie the humor was a diversion to keep the child from fear, from suffering. That seemed to be a story about the lengths to which a paren will sacrifice everything for the love of their child. This book seems to have a very different message since the only love is for one's own life, to survive.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I think you understand it perfectly, Irene.

I wouldn't use the term "ludicrous", but I agree that war is often nonsensical. Why do you think the author couldn't be showing how events happen in wartime that have nothing to do with defending one's country and way of life?


message 28: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments Not sure I understand your question... "couldn't be showing why things happen in war time that have nothing to do with defending one's country...". Maybe I am just tired from losing that hour of sleep.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Well, let's see. The guy who wanted the eggs was an egotistical person without regard for other people's lives. He would have been the same sort of narcissitic person in peacetime, but even worse that he would risk people's lives for his own self-serving interests. That he would do so has nothing to do with the prosecution of the war. Things like this go on in the world, regardless of peace or war.

I asked if you thought the author's purpose was to show that things that happen during a war make no sense. There are much better vehicles for showing how friendships form during war, and I've no doubt this author knows of them. So wouldn't showing war in its less brutal form also show the futility of war?


message 30: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments Well, maybe those stories have already been told. As you said, there are lots of stories about heroism, friendship, cruelty, suffering, etc., during war. I suspect that this author wanted to write a "different" story. I think that the mix of civilian and soldier might have been a way of showing how war impacts all, not just those who serve on the front lines. Maybe this says something about the lengths that we all do what we need to do to survive. In an earlier post, I noted the contrast between the feasting military officials and the starving civilians, but I could contrast the cruelty of the Nazi soldiers gunning down civilian prisoners under orders with the Russian canabols murdering innocent people in search of food. Or maybe this is about those who let hardship bring out their worst characteristics, their extreme selfishness, indifference, brutality with those who maintain their basic humanity despite hardship. I think the stark scenes held a shock value that forced the reader to take note. Had a less brutal story line been adapted, we might have been tempted into sentimentality.


Elizabeth (Alaska) This was not at all a brutal story. If you want to know what war does to people, read All Quiet on the Western Front or Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War.


message 32: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments I can't think of a less brutal story written about war. Can anyone give an example? I think all of the war stories I have read have been quite brutal.


message 33: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments Elizabeth, I agree that there are far more graphically brutal war stories available. I was responding to your question about a less brutal depiction conveying the futility of war.

Gilean, I agree that the very subject of war is brutal. No matter how graphic the depiction, there is always a brutality present.


Elizabeth (Alaska) The novels I mentioned in #31 above were are less about physical brutality, although they are filled with that, but that the psychological brutality of war and its lasting consequences cannot be resolved. To me the destruction of the very soul of individuals is far worse than anything portrayed in this novel.


message 35: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments I agree with you.


message 36: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments A couple more "wonderments" about this book.

We are told that the military official demanding the eggs was once arrested and tortured like Lev's father. Why? Is the fact that he once was brutalized and now creates a brutalizing situation for another a statement about how people start and end just as they are by nature, regardless of life circumstances? I might have expected a bit of empathy or solidarity from this man who had been on the receiving end, but there is none. Or is this a statement about how quickly we are willing to separate ourselves from identifying with the underdog? Yes, he was once vulnerable, but no more and no one had better think of him that way again. Likewise, the book begins with a rather cultured and sedate grandparents, insurance sellers. Neither give any indication of PTSD or any other effects of war time. It is as if the soul crushing brutality of wide spread violence can be confined to the specific parameters of war time and location. In this era when we are so aware of the psychological toll that war can have on people, why have this story come from nice old people? I am particularly intrigued with the grandmother. At least Lev seems to see little actual killing. He experiences the deprivation of the seige and has one week of a harrowing experience, but after he is conscripted, he is given a desk job. But, sweet grandmom turns out to be a sniper.


message 37: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Mar 14, 2012 05:11PM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Are you asking why the military official was arrested and tortured? This was Stalin Russia, one of the most brutal regimes ever imagined. Probably worse than Hitler, if truth be known, but certainly just as bad, something around 15 million plus terrorized and murdered. As to PTSD, each person is different. Suffering is varied. Not everyone who was ever a soldier fails to function.


message 38: by Gillian (new)

Gillian | 618 comments So what did everyone think about how the author used the intro of the grandparents telling the story? Why do you think the author did this? Do you think it added anything to the story?

Interesting that you describe the grandmother as being sweet, Irene. I don't recall much characterization of her except that she was quiet and didn't want to tell her story.


message 39: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4082 comments Elizabeth, I was not surprised that the ranking military man was tortured. I was commenting on the disconnect between his own experience of torture and his subsequent treatment of those who came under his authority. Although he did not torture Lev and Koyla, he does psychologically torment them with their rediculous and life-threatening quest (as well as the threat of execution if they do not produce the eggs). And the lower ranking military men around him seem quite fearful. Lev's proximity to brutality via the disappearance and death of his father seems to evoke a level of empathy or at least compassion. The official seems to be devoid of any empathy or compassion.

Well, I was being a bit lazy when referring to the grandmother as sweet. I could not articulate in a single word what I thought and was rushing. She was not sweet. She did display a level of coersive strength as she persuaded people to purchase insurance and she seemed a bit refined. She was quiet. She appeared to be ay rather typical suburban grandmother, no residue of combat trauma.


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