City of Thieves takes place over the span of one week in winter, but judging by the events taking place, you would think it was much, much longer. It is set during the Nazi's siege of Leningrad, Russia as told by Lev Beniov, the author's grandfather.
Seventeen year-old Lev was arrested for looting and thrown into the Crossings where he befriends Kolya, a young deserter with a smart tongue and quick wit. The two men are recruited by the Colonel to retrieve a dozen eggs for the Colonel's daughter's wedding. It sounds utterly ridiculous that he should want that, especially at a time where all the wood in Leningrad was used up for firewood, cannibals sold sausages of the questionable variety, and candy was the glue holding books together. The city was freezing and starving, including the two young men sent on the journey.
The story details their adventures, misadventures, being captured and barely escaping, their loss of faith and their determination to help each other despite the despair that clouds them. It captures a sensitive and passionate Lev's struggle for survival with a man who always thought two steps ahead of everyone with a penchant for silly stories. Both Lev and Kolya were characters to love. Benioff tells this thrilling tale of destruction, loss, brutality and sacrifice in a way that blends humour (Lev's nose comments, Kolya's jeering about Lev's virginity or his rants on constipation) and fast paced action into the perfect World War II movie. It is essentially a book about one week during the fight for Leningrad when Lev met his best friend, his wife, and killed two Germans.
"The more tired I got the more doubtful the whole scenario seemed. How could this be real? We were a band of enchanted mice, marching beneath the chalked moon on the blackboard sky. A sorcerer lived in Novoye Koshkino, a man who knew the ancient words that could transform us back into the men we once were. But there would be perils on the way, giant black cats scrambling over the ice, lunging for us as we scurried for cover, our long tails twitching with fear."
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