Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CITY OF THIEVES by David Benioff

Lev Beniov is a teenager in Leningrad during WWII.  When he and his buds pilfer the effects of a dead German paratrooper, Lev is the only one caught by the authorities.  His sentence is actually a quest:  to find a dozen eggs for a wedding cake for the daughter of a Russian colonel.  Kolya, a soldier caught for desertion, is his assigned partner in this quest and has enough worldly experience to be a little more resourceful than Lev.  The problem is that Russians are starving, and everyone has already eaten their chickens, since they don’t have the means to feed them.  Kolya and Lev follow what leads they have, finding the extreme lengths to which people will go to survive.  After a few hair-raising encounters, they come upon a group of young Russian women who are serving the sexual needs of the occupying German officers.   Well-fed, these girls seem to be a possible avenue to the required eggs.  At this point, Kolya and Lev join forces with a group of partisan soldiers who have weapons and skills, one of whom is a young female sniper, Vika, with whom Lev becomes infatuated.  Since Lev is ostensibly the author’s grandfather, we can assume that he survives.  However, this is fiction, and anything can happen.  In this case, what happens is a series of treacherous adventures, culminating in a life-or-death chess match, in which Lev shows his mettle.  While Lev is awkward and naïve, Kolya is flamboyant and eternally optimistic, with Lev providing the practical influence to Kolya the dreamer and schemer—sort of like a superhero and his sidekick.  Not that I would compare this story to a comic book, because anything about WWII is going to be deadly serious, and this book has several horrific moments.  On the whole, though, it’s a captivating adventure novel that takes place in a true life-and-death setting.

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