Friday, October 16, 2009

Nazis, Sex, and a Dozen Eggs

"City of Thieves" by David Benioff

This is the story of a character named Lev Beniov and his accomplice Kolya who are assigned an impossible mission during the Nazi blockade of Leningrad. Lev is an intelligent, awkward, self-doubting 19-year-old Jewish boy trekking across the country with Kolya, the Slavic sex god who was imprisoned for wartime infractions. They are both summoned by the street police to go on an impossible mission of finding the Colonel’s daughter a dozen eggs for her wedding cake. Once done, they will get their ration cards back, be set free from jail, and allowed to go back to their families and towns, or whatever was left of them.

Despite the graphic details of the book as the two trudge from town to town and witness starvation, war, savagery, and killings, Benioff seems to insert almost irrelevant spits of humor and inanity – reminding the reader that our narrator is only 19 and has been shoved into war times barely with any chest hair or a place to call his own. He plays on the absurdity of the human condition and how sometimes we are compromised even in times of great struggle.

He travels quickly between humor and devastation, and I guarantee you will laugh out loud and cry a few times while reading this book. To quote a NY Times journalist, “Benioff reminds us what a beautifully ambiguous world we live in,” and it’s true. I promise you will not want to put this down.

If you like the novel and are interested in any of his other work, I’ve also recently finished “When the Nines Roll Over,” which is a collection of short stories by Benioff – they are lovely in so many sad and beautiful ways.