City of Thieves is written by David Benioff, who has done most of his writing in film and television, most notably with the hit HBO series Game of Thrones and his previous book, 25th Hour.
This novel was highly entertaining and follows two young men as they go on a wild mission behind enemy lines for the most unsuspecting item. City of Thieves is a historical fictional novel posed as the history of the author’s grandfather that takes place during the Siege of Leningrad.
Lev Beniov is a small boy of 17 who is struggling to survive the daily bombings and vicious cold weather of Leningrad, when one day a dead German paratrooper falls at his feet. Like any curious kid, he searches the body for any items of significance and claims a knife and little liquor. However, this was considered looting, a crime punishable by death, and he was immediately imprisoned by the Russian enforcers of his city.
While in jail, he meets a most curiously cocky Russian deserter named Kolya Vlasov. Lev is certain they will be executed like most who are sent to the prison, but a strange twist of fate gives them a second chance at life. They find temporary favor with the strangest of persons — a commanding officer of the NKVD. This favor gives them a new lease on life as the officer gives them both a second chance should they successfully perform a top-secret, covert mission for him — retrieve him some eggs from behind enemy lines.
The tale follows Lev and Kolya as they encounter a long list of obstacles on their mission. They encounter cannibals, kidnapped girls, prison camps, life-or-death chess matches and more. Throughout the story, Lev grows fond of Kolya, a hubristic, sex-obsessed lover of the arts.
In addition to following their journey, this is a coming of age story for Lev, who is not as experienced in worldly matters as Kolya, who is 3 years his senior and has attended University. On several occasions, you can can almost picture Lev standing there with his jaw dropped and eyes wide open in shock at the actions of his companion.
There are plenty of humorous moments in the novel that split up the somber situations that were common of the times. It is an easy read that I recommend if you’re interested in a fictional novel that will take you on a fun journey, while also enlightening you on a specific time in history.