Book Review: City Of Thieves

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City of ThievesCity of Thieves by David Benioff
My rating: ★★★★★

Let me say this up front, City Of Thieves is one of my favorite books from the past couple of years. This audiobook had me laughing, crying, horrified, amazed and uplifted all the way through, and totally enthralled me during my long drive to Florida. An absolute stunner, and one I recommend to everyone.

City Of Thieves tells the story of Lev and Koyla, two guys trying to survive the German siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during World War 2. They meet in jail, sure to be shot for looting (Lev) and desertion (Koyla). Instead, they are given the impossible task of finding a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel, who wants to make a cake for his daughter's wedding. So they begin their unlikely quest, through the starved city of Leningrad and beyond, having one week to find this impossible item, that hasn't been seen since late summer of the previous year.

And adventures they have. Cannibalism, whores, chess games, bomb carrying dogs, cold, starvation, deprivations of all kinds, they come in contact with. Impossibly evil Nazi troopers, partisans scratching at the occupation, everyone doing what they can under deplorable conditions. Through it all, Kolya maintains a bountiful energy, an irrepressible spirit and humor in the face of all odds, while Lev, the narrator whose story has been pulled extracted by grandson, just tries to figure out the world, barely 17.

What can I say? The storytelling is simply amazing. I am driving and laughing, crying, horrified and amazed as the story unfolds. Benioff's descriptions of the cold and hunger are vivid, and what goes on is, at the same time, believable and unbelievable. You just never know what Lev and Kolya are going to uncover and what they go through during their search for the eggs.

And of course, looming over it all is the indescribable evil of the Nazis, and, more specifically, the Eizengruppen murder squads, as Kolya, Lev and a group of partisans set out to take down their most infamous leader. And yes, there is even a little sex and a little love. Like I said, wow, this book has it all.

There were only two (one small and one not so small) drawbacks to the book. The small drawback was that some descriptions were repeated. Lev would tell his story to others and the shorthand version was repeated a couple of times which, even listening on an audiobook when repetition is often welcome, got annoying.

Spoiler alert! Highlight to read.
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The second, and fairly big one, was the death of Kolya. Throughout the novel, I kept feeling like Kolya was wearing a "red shirt", in that it seemed inevitable that he would die. I can't figure out if that is how it should have been, both the feeling and the inevitability of it all, or just a mistake. If I was writing the book, I would have just split Kolya and Lev up, and just have Lev wonder what had ever happened to Kolya, as Lev wonders about many of the people he came across in his amazing journey. I thought his death, while splendidly handled and wonderfully ironic in a Catch-22 / M*A*S*H sort of way, was somewhat deflating and an easy out after such an amazing odyssey. But again, maybe that is how it should have been.

The second, and fairly big one, was the death of Kolya. Throughout the novel, I kept feeling like Kolya was wearing a "red shirt", in that it seemed inevitable that he would die. I can't figure out if that is how it should have been, both the feeling and the inevitability of it all, or just a mistake. If I was writing the book, I would have just split Kolya and Lev up, and just have Lev wonder what had ever happened to Kolya, as Lev wonders about many of the people he came across in his amazing journey. I thought his death, while splendidly handled and wonderfully ironic in a Catch-22 / M*A*S*H sort of way, was somewhat deflating and an easy out after such an amazing odyssey. But again, maybe that is how it should have been.

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But in the end, City Of Thieves is one of my favorite books from the past couple of years. I am a tough grader and I would probably give it 4 1/2 stars if I could, but this was good enough to push it to 5 stars. I simply love it and if you don't cry and laugh at least a half dozen times, I feel sorry for you!

Ron Perlman at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con.

Ron Perlman

A word on the audiobook - it was incredibly well done. Ron Perlman did an amazing job with the narration. He didn't really stretch to do the character voices, but he still lent the needed gravitas to the words and added the emphasis where needed. It truly felt like the grandfather was narrating into a tape recorder. I am glad I was able to listen to it for long stretches of time during a long drive, as I was transported to a different world and enjoyed every bit of it. There were just the right musical touches during chapter segues and I couldn't have asked for anything more from the book. I don't regret for a minute not reading it myself, although I think I will tackle it as a real book again real soon.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on April 23, 2012 5:57 PM.

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