City of Thieves by David Benioff is a fictional story about two Russian men whom in the heat, or cold, of war, search for eggs while narrowly escaping many life-and-death situations.
They meet as strangers, one a soldier who abandoned his post, and the other a teenager who took a knife from a dead man’s body. Sure of their inevitable execution, they’re saved when a general grants them a chance for redemption if they can locate eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake. The journey begins.
Foremost, though the goal of the main characters, Kolya and Lev, is to find the eggs for the general, the book is actually much more about the development of their relationship to one another-how people can go from complete strangers with little in common to close friends who even risk their lives for each other.
The characters themselves are amazing. The main characters can be loveable, funny, and sympathetic all at once.
Lev, whose point of view we read from, is a smart kid who, though he can be naive at times, stays behind in Leningrad to fight for his country even when he’s too young to join the military. He is self-aware about his fear and pessimism when it comes to close-range fighting and women.
The other main character, Kolya, makes a perfect companion to Lev. He’s good at fighting, flirting, and making hilarious comments. Even when things seem at their worst, Kolya’s optimism pulls both him and Lev through each peril.
Slowly, the two form a bond as they each experience more and more dangerous scenarios, often being held at gunpoint. The best part of this book, for me, is just watching them slowly grow closer until they are an essential part of eachother. Two people who met less than a week ago come together to create a beautiful tale of the strength and power of friendship.
One of the things that struck me within the first few chapters is how real the setting of this book feels. The poverty and hunger the average citizen of Leningrad suffers is introduced and explained in a way that is completely believable throughout the whole story, with each character that is introduced. Many are thin and starving, and some do terrible things for food. It was easy to feel the despair in the atmosphere and the people. You can tell a lot of research must have been done to create such a realistic setting.
Finally, the story was something I really enjoyed as well. Though this books was heavily based around the characters, each little set of mystery or danger that was introduced were interesting to read about.
The part when Kolya and Lev stumbled upon the cannibal’s house was, while horrific and bloody, also exhilarating and even fun.
This whole story is kind of ridiculous, after all. ‘Two men go searching for eggs during a war.’ It’s strange, but that’s also part of the charm that I fell for-the unrealistic parts that provided so much entertainment. I almost never got the feeling that the story was slowing down or getting boring; it was thoroughly enjoyable.
The ending was, though slightly predictable, heartbreaking. It was evident that Kolya would die, yet I felt grief anyway. This book made me care about the characters.
End of Spoilers
Overall, I loved City of Thieves, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in a historical fiction with friendship and a unique twist. It brilliantly demonstrates how through sharing emotional experiences with someone else, any stranger can, within the span of a week, become someone who we love and who changes us completely.
It is fun, intriguing, and emotional-everything needed in a good book.