Monday, March 4, 2013

A Life-Changing Search for Eggs

City of Thieves
You guys.  This book.  It is so good.

I am trying to think of a way to describe it in a way that won't make it seem super-depressing because it is not super-depressing.  It is quite funny, heart-felt, and wonderful.

City of Thieves is set during the Siege of Leningrad.  Lev, a 17-year-old volunteer firefighter, gets caught by the Russian police while stealing from the corpse of a German soldier.  He is taken to prison, where he meets Kolya, a deserter.  Instead of being executed, though, they are set the impossible task of finding a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel's daughter's wedding cake.

So Lev and Kolya are off to find eggs!  They start in Leningrad then move to the country.  Along the way, they meet people both terrifying and wonderful, and learn so much about themselves and other people and friendship and courage.


Ok, so I get it.  City of Thieves sounds like every other coming of age story in the world.  And fine, maybe it is a lot like them.  But that doesn't mean that coming of age stories aren't still relevant.  Just because the story has been done before doesn't mean that the execution can't be fresh and amazing.

And City of Thieves really was just that.  Lev and Kolya are just such a great team, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with them.  I loved sprinting through Russia with them.  I could feel the cold of the Russian winter seeping through my bones while they tromped through the woods.  I wept during a scene with a lonely boy caring for a chicken, and then laughed when Lev and Kolya were informed that the chicken was in fact a rooster.

It would be so easy for this book to be heavy and depressing.  And I don't mean that in a bad way.  Some books are very sad and heavy, but are amazing nonetheless.  But City of Thieves is, at its center, about the friendship of two young men.  And how all of us, even when starving and living hand-to-mouth and fighting a seemingly endless war, are still human.  A 17-year-old boy still daydreams about naked women.  A 20-year-old still brags about his sexual exploits while feeling insecure about his writing skills.  People grow up in all sorts of settings, and just because they grow up too quickly in some ways, that doesn't mean that they can't still be very immature in others.

As in all stories about suffering through war, the poignancy in this novel comes from knowing that not everyone will make it to the end.  But I guess when you are starving every day and living under siege, you in some ways have nothing to lose.  And the way that the characters in this book seized their opportunities and made the most of them, even when they were really, really scared was... I mean, it was awesome.  I would say it was inspiring, but as someone who avoids confrontation and generally does not seize the moment, I can't say that my behavior will change in future.  But it was very cool to read about other people who are brave.

I thoroughly enjoyed the hours I spent with City of Thieves.  I highly recommend it.

18 comments:

  1. I must be confusing this book with something else. It's not about Boston? huh... I will check, I think it is already on my tbr. (And I think I am thinking of Prince of Thieves, perhaps... Hate it when that happens (book confusion))

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  2. Such a good book. Even if it had that gory scene

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  3. Oh, I lovelovelove that book. I was amazed at how Benioff balanced giving a clear and frightening intensity of the siege with the fun and beauty of the characters and their friendship. I'm so glad you loved it!

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  4. I have this one on audio, and haven't yet listened to it. I know that it's going to be amazing, and will snap me out of my WWII reading overload, so I need to make time for it soon. I have a few others to read first, but need to hurry! I am glad that you adored this one!

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  5. Like Care, I was confusing this book with another one. Maybe that's why I've been avoiding it? Now that I know what the book is about and that you really enjoyed it, I'm adding it to my tbr list.

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  6. I chanced upon this one at a library book sale not long ago. I haven't read it yet, so I'm just skimming your review, but I'm happy to hear you loved it! :D

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  7. So glad you read it and liked it as much as I did! Do you know that Benioff is one of the writers for the TV series Game of Thrones? I'm convinced that's why so many people are watching it. It's certainly not the "genius" of George R.R. Martin, who isn't half the writer Benioff is.

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  8. I thought I knew quite a bit about this period, but the finding of a dozen eggs I didn't expect to be so difficult (especially if it was for a colonial). It sounds a good read, if, yes, samey.

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  9. I was surprised by how much I liked this one. It was just so engaging. There were horrific things happening, but it wasn't told in a horrific way if that makes sense.

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  10. awesome isn't it ,shocked this isn't better known it should be up with catch 22 as an anti war novel ,all the best stu

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  11. I LOVED this book. I loved it so much. What a great ending, right? :-D

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  12. I absolutely loved this book! I was surprised that I could laugh while reading a book like this, though I admit that it did make me cry, too.

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  13. Aw, I forgot how much I loved this book until I read your review. It's definitely a good one!

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  14. I've had this one on my wishlist forever. Now is probably the time to pick it up!

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  15. I don't care how many times it's been done, I love coming-of-age stories. And I love the egg idea, what an interesting way to keep the story together.

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  16. I loved this book too! I read it a couple of years ago. I bet it would be an excellent audiobook.

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  17. I've had my eye on this book for a while but never managed to read it. I'm still slightly obsessed by books set in Russia so I'm glad you really enjoyed it and will make a special effort to get my hands on a copy!

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  18. I had missed mentions of this one somehow...but it sounds very good. I've read quite a few novels set around the Siege of Leningrad - it's endlessly fascinating, how people survived in those extremities. I'll have to add this one to the list as well.

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