What a surprising delight “City of Thieves” was to read. Not that I expected David Benioff’s novel to be bad, but I did not expect to enjoy it in so many ways. This 258-page book is set in 1942 war-torn Leningrad, where the residents fear the German siege, their own forces and each other. It’s a dangerous place for a 17-year-old boy who reluctantly finds himself with a new best friend on an impossible mission for a Soviet colonel.
The delight in this book is that it combined an image of the gruesome facts of war and what people must do to survive, with unique characters that bring humor and sunshine to a very dark place. I found myself actually chuckling or sighing out loud as I was so absorbed in each chapter. It took me from laughing to sadness in the turn of a page, then right back again.
Descriptions are written with efficiency, and Benioff’s dialogue is quick, witty, harsh and kind throughout, with a consistent tempo. He seems to have done his homework in providing an account of what it was like to live as a jewish teenager under Stalinist rule with a Nazi blockade.
Main characters Lev (awkward teenager) and Kolya (grandiose soldier) are thrown together in an unfortunate situation. To save themselves, they must agree to carry out a task on the whim of a Soviet colonel. Through their misadventures, they also must save themselves from the Germans and citizens of their own beloved Leningrad. It is hard to tell friend from foe.
Despite its serious premise, it’s a light read, and unfortunately, I found little emotional connection to the characters. Even so, “City of Thieves” is a quick and well-written read with an inventive plot.
David Benioff is the co-creator of “Game of Thrones” and has written several other novels.
My Rating: 3 stars