I stumbled over City of Thieves when it came out and was early on the bandwagon. First to read and last to blog: a neat summation of how I run things around here. City of Thieves is simultaneously funny and sad, which is a hard balance to strike without becoming glib or irreverent. Much of the humor is dark, a little twisted, which is what you’d expect from a book set during a war.
To form an opinion of this book, you must read the first two chapters (at least). The first few pages are tired, because they’re the old: “Sit down, Sonny-boy. Gramps is gonna tell you ’bout the war.” (That’s sarcasm. It’s not a quote). When you get to the story proper, you’ll forgive the clumsy framing device. At the outset, Lev Beniov is starving in Leningrad as the Germans bomb the city. One night, a dead German paratrooper lands near his apartment and he investigates the corpse with a few friends. He is arrested for looting and thrown in a cell with Kolya, a charismatic deserter, until the two of them get a reprieve. They are ordered by a colonel to find a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake:
“My men say there are no eggs in Leningrad, but I believe there is everything in Leningrad, even now, and I just need the right fellows to find it. A pair of thieves.” (35)