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.
Lev 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.