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What a Notable Book! City of Thieves

Several months ago, I read “City of Thieves” by David Benioff, one of this year’s Notable Books. And I LOVED it.

Briefly, it’s a novel set during the siege of Leningrad, of two men who meet when they share a jail cell one night. Instead of being executed the next morning as they expect, they receive a chance to live, IF they bring the colonel a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake. This in a city where people are cooking down the glue in book bindings to have something to eat.  What an idea.

As I read this, I was reminded of a pattern that I’ve noted in some of the fiction I read. The set-up of the plot holds great promise, but the follow-through disappoints. “City of Thieves” lived up to its potential, and grandly.

The two men, Lev and Kolya, set out on their way. The banter between the two of them stays lively. Their quest is absurd. On the one hand is this silliness, but in the other is the drop-dead seriousness of the time.  Starvation visits every home. Nazis kill and torture on a whim.

When I read these Notable books, I try to find excerpts that I can share later with a wide range of audiences. I had a hard time finding good excerpts that weren’t full of coarse language, but I hadn’t been aware of that as I read.  Instead, I was aware of the growing friendship and respect between Lev and Kolya. I tend to want to get books finished and marked off of my list. I was sorry when I got to the end of City of Thieves.

This book was also on this year’s Alex List of adult books that would have interest for older teens. I think “City of Thieves” would also satisfy readers interested in the historical time period, in books about buddies, and in the yin and yang of funny and serious.

I know that the people in the wonderful Friday morning Bethany Library book group have had lively discussions of this one. I’m going to suggest it as a great title for book groups.

Have you read it?  What did you think?

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