“City of Thieves” by David Benioff

Prior to reading “City of Thieves” by David Benioff, I knew pretty much nothing about Russia. Now I know that it sounds terrible. During World War II, at least.

benioffLev is a very self-conscious Jewish teenager living in Leningrad during World War II, trying his hardest to stay alive. When he gets arrested for looting the body of a German pilot, he finds himself stuck in a jail cell with Kolya, a twenty two year old Slavic deserter and aspiring novelist. Rather than being killed for their crimes, they are given a special assignment instead: the Colonel’s daughter is having a wedding in a few days, and she wants a wedding cake. So begins Lev and Kolya’s mission to find a dozen eggs to bake the Colonel a cake and spare their lives.

As ridiculous as the premise sounds, I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Filled with dark humor, the relationship between Lev, a shy, awkward, teen, and the confident and cocky Kolya never ceased to be entertaining. Benioff communicates the horrors of war in a way that made me feel like I was laughing at all the wrong moments. For example, when he states that cannibals go for the buttocks first because that’s where you can make the best patties from. Horrifying, yet funny. Lev and Kolya’s misadventures provided a lighthearted story that is layered on top of a more dark and depressing narrative.

I typically have issues with books about Russia, mostly because the words are hard to pronounce and I had a bad experience with “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” in high school. However, Benioff provides an accurate picture of life in Russia while keeping things interesting enough to want me to keep reading. All in all a pretty solid piece of historical fiction with enough humor to keep me going, not too much romantic fluff, and characters I felt I could relate to on a personal level.

4/5

 

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

Words cannot describe how much I loved The Nightingale. It might be because I’m a sucker for a good WWII novel, but I thi21853621nk it’s probably more than that. Kristin Hannah’s story sucked me in from the beginning. It tore me to pieces, and I enjoyed every second of it.

Vianne and Isabelle are sisters, but they could not be more opposite. The story begins with a rebellious Isabelle and a cautious, comfortable Vianne living in France at the beginning of World War II. Vianne, older than her sister Isabelle, is living in Carriveau with her daughter Sophie, her husband Antoine having just gone off to war. Isabelle has just been expelled again. The Nightingale tells the tale of how these two very different sisters are affected by the horrors of war, how they deal with love, loss, and learn to survive.

In the beginning, I didn’t like Vianne at all. I felt that she was shallow and one-sided. Oh, was I wrong. Throughout the novel, I saw Vianne transfrom from a terrified French housewife into a strong woman who had to survive the only way she knew how in order to protect her family. The same goes for Isabelle, whose transformation was less drastic and more of a coming-of-age. She became a fighter in a different way, moving from frivolous pranks and running away from boarding schools to fighting for France by risking her life.

Hannah’s style of writing reminded me of The Notebook meets Sarah’s Key. Which is probably a really weird description now that I read it out loud. The story is told on multiple timelines, from multiple perspectives: that of Vianne’s and Isabelle’s during wartime, and the perspective of an elderly woman returning to Paris for the first time since the war ended, fifty years later.

The Nightingale had me addicted. I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what would happen with Vianne and Isabelle, and I was completely unprepared for the hardships they had to face. Reading their stories side by side, each fighting their own, very different battles during the war, and seeing them come together as sisters was a 5/5 for me. I don’t cry, but this book made me want to. If you want something lighthearted with a happy ending, The Nightingale isn’t quite for you. If you want to read something that will make you feel every emotion you’ve ever had with a bittersweet ending, you’ve got your book.

Rating: 5/5