They met in a cold prison cell in Leningrad during World War II. Seventeen-year-old Lev was thrown in for stealing from a dead German paratrooper, while Kolya claims that he was misidentified as a Russian army deserter. Both face certain execution for their crimes, but in a twist of fate the unlikely duo are given a chance to win back their lives. All they have to do is find Colonel Grechko a dozen eggs in less than a week’s time so that his wife might make his soon to be married daughter a proper wedding cake. This is a task easier said than done, considering that any sort of food, no less fresh eggs, is hard to come by in Leningrad… just ask the walking skeletons living there. But with no other chance at freedom, Lev and Kolya readily accept their odd mission.
City of Thieves, by David Benioff, is inspired by his Grandfather’s stories of survival in Russia during WWI. As you should know by now, I have a small obsession with World War II books, and appreciated this interesting departure from the usual stories. The two main characters of the novel are immensely likable. Lev, still a teenager, is more serious and still coming into his own. Kolya, on the other hand, is lighthearted, a prankster, and has an irresistible way about him – it’s hard not to like him. Although Kolya initially detests his mandated partner in crime, even he can’t deflect Kolya’s charm for very long.
One greatly appreciated aspect of this book that you don’t often see in WWII fiction or nonfiction was the element of humor. Even while treading though potentially depressing content, Benioff’s characters brought a light and playful feel to the situations. Plus, the premise of the book – to find a dozen eggs – is a bit on the silly side as well. Yet, the humor never undermined the gravity of the situations the characters faced – it just made reading about them more bearable.
There weren’t many aspects of the book that I didn’t like. Sure, I wish Lev was a little less girl obsessed, but he is a seventeen-year-old boy after all, and I suppose that really couldn’t be helped. Plus considering the serious, and often tragic content typical of survival stories like this one, I always welcome being left with a glimmer of hope, no matter how small. Bienoff’s character’s helped me feel that hope the whole way through, even at the end.
Overall, I would recommend this book anyone.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars