The first book I read in my 37th year is perhaps the best book I’ve read in the last five years.
David Benioff’s City of Thieves is set during the seige of Leningrad during the second world war and is (possibly?) based on the experiences of his own grandfather. The story begins when the narrator, a young man named of Lev, is jailed for looting. Lev, an awkward and shy virgin, finds himself in a cell with Koyla, a larger than life ladies man who has been arrested for desertion. Both crimes are capital offences but the prisoners are offered their freedom if they can track down a dozen eggs in time for a Colonel’s wedding — No easy task in a city under seige whose residents have resorted to eating the glue out of book bindings.
Koyla takes Lev under his wing and what follows is a coming of age story filled with adventure, dark humor and tragedy. I’ve never read a book that switches gear between humor and horror so seamlessly. City of Thieves has all of the adventure and spirit of Michael Chabon’s excellent picaresque, Gentlemen of The Road, but with an emotional impact that left me, at times, devastated. The last book that moved me this much was Brad Kessler’s Birds In Fall.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough, though with the obvious caveat that it’s set in war.
One final note: I love the cover of this book. I confess that my primary motivation for starting this blog was so I could post the covers of the books I read. I love graphic art and, as I tend to only read books I enjoy, looking back over a cover gallery of those books evokes great memories. I will, accordingly, be discussing those covers as well as the books themselves. I won’t limit myself to the covers that were featured on the copy I read. If there is a more interesting cover out there, I will post that instead. In the case of City of Thieves, it was the cover which first drew me to the book.