A moving tale of two boys who are brought together by circumstance and end up bound by so much more, City of Thieves is a journey well worth taking.
As wise and funny as it is thrilling and original – the story of two young men on an impossible adventure. A writer visits his retired grandparents in Florida to document their experience during the infamous siege of Leningrad. His grandmother won’t talk about it, but his grandfather reluctantly consents. The result is the captivating odyssey of two young men trying to survive against desperate odds. Lev Beniov considers himself built for deprivation. He’s small, smart, and insecure, a Jewish virgin too young for the army, who spends his nights working as a volunteer firefighter with friends from his building. When a dead German paratrooper lands in his street, Lev is caught looting the body and dragged to jail, fearing for his life. He shares his cell with the charismatic and grandiose Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested on desertion charges. Instead of the standard bullet in the back of the head, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt to find the impossible. A search that takes them through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and the devastated surrounding countryside creates an unlikely bond between this earnest, lust-filled teenager and an endearing lothario with the gifts of a conman. Set within the monumental events of history, City of Thieves is an intimate coming-of-age tale with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.
This was such a moving story. Lev and Kolya are opposites in so many ways. Lev is the serious one, the poet’s son. A good heart, a sense of right and wrong, he’s a gentle soul at heart. Kolya, the ladies man, the sweet talker, is the negotiator. He’s the boy soldier with the big talk but a soft heart. Circumstance brings them together for a quest that sends them on an adventure like no other. The two work in tandem, each playing off the other and before they realize it, they become friends capable of loving each other like brothers.
Their adventures lead them to the brink of what will be their defining moments, the moments they find out what they are truly capable of and they are transformed into men right before our eyes. It’s such a compelling story. It felt like I was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee listening to Lev tell the story in his grandfatherly voice. After reading it, I can tell you with certainty that: I have never known real cold. I have never known real hunger or fear or loneliness. I really only have a semblance of what it would be like. A book like this puts all those things into perspective.
One of the things I loved was the humor that shined through the darkness of this harrowing story. It endeared Kolya to me and leant authenticity to the story. Even in the worst of predicaments, humans are still human. We need laughter to help quell our fears.
I’ve passed this one along to my teenage sons. I’m hoping it will leave as positive an impression on them as it has left with me. This one is going on my list of all time favorites.
If you enjoy historical fiction, WWII history, life changing adventures or love the inspiration that stories of friendship can give, you will LOVE this book.