One night over Leningrad, a frozen German paratrooper falls from the sky. Seventeen-year-old Lev is arrested for looting the body. Expecting a swift execution, Lev is astonished to find himself in the company of Kolya, a dashing soldier charged with desertion. They are brought before a high-ranking NKVD officer who makes them an offer they are in no position to refuse. The colonel’s daughter is about to be married. Because of the siege, food is in short supply; eggs are needed for the wedding cake.
Lev and Kolya have one week to return to headquarters with a dozen eggs. If they succeed, their ration cards will be returned; failure means no ration cards—in other words, certain death.
Thus begins a touching coming-of-age story as the two young men embark on a quest against desperate odds. The absurdity of the situation is poignant. How can they find eggs in a starving city, where even the dogs have been slaughtered for food? Hearing of a collective outside the city, they cross into enemy-held territory, meeting up with partisans, whores, traitors and the dreaded Einsatzkommando.
City of Thieves is storytelling at its best. David Benioff’s screenwriting experience is apparent. He is the author of the screenplays for the films Troy and The Kite Runner, as well as the adaptation of his first novel, The 25th Hour.
City of Thieves, Benioff’s second novel, is vividly cinematic, fast-paced and adventurous, touching on the fragility of life and the tenderness of human relationships against a backdrop of hardship, desperation and the will to survive.
(City of Thieves, David Benioff, Sceptre, $32.99.)
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in 2008.