Monday, October 20, 2008

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Oh, if only every book I read was as good as this one! David Benioff tells the story of his grandfather Lev, who lived through the siege of Leningrad and had one particular adventure in January, 1942. Arrested for looting the body of a dead German paratrooper, 17-year-old Lev must earn his freedom by procuring the dozen eggs needed for the wedding cake of the daughter of a Soviet colonel. How do you find a dozen eggs in a city that is starving? Accompanied by Kolya, a deserter who has been offered the same deal, the two manage to escape from Leningrad, meet up with the partisans, rescue some prisoners, kill some Germans, and find some eggs. It’s harrowing and funny at the same time, though the harrowing parts dominate. I loved it! I loved Lev, who is sweet and tentative, I loved Kolya, who is funny and manic and ingenious, and I loved their cohort Vika, a sniper who may or may not be NKVD (precursor of the KGB).

This book did not receive universal acclaim, though the New York Times liked it. This review addresses my question, which is, is this a true story? It’s a work of fiction, though Lev’s last name is Beniov, and the first chapter is the story of a grandson interviewing his grandfather. The answer seems to be, sort of. The fiction label gives Benioff the cover he needs to invent where necessary. He gives credit in the acknowledgements to The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, by Harrison Salisbury, a book I remember my mother reading some time in the 1970’s. She was a Russian history buff who would have loved this book too.

(Book 37, 2008)


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