In David Benioff’s novel City of Thieves, Lev and Kolya, a looter and a deserter respectively, ought to have been shot to death for their infractions. Instead, a “benevolent” colonel gives them a chance at a reprieve—they have a week to find a dozen eggs, which the colonel will use for his daughter’s wedding cake. An incredibly simple task—except the novel takes place in 1942 during the Siege of Leningrad, and its citizens are dying of starvation. There are no chickens to be found. The book chronicles Lev and Kolya’s journey within Piter (as they affectionately refer to Leningrad) and without as they attempt to save their lives by putting themselves in great danger and slip behind Nazi lines for the sake of a cake.
Benioff’s work is muscular yet tender, riveting yet relaxed, and very thoroughly researched. Despite graphic scenes involving cannibals, a child dying of starvation, and dogs who are made into suicide bombers, Benioff manages to never lose his sense of humor for long (I lost count of the fart and constipation jokes). I really adore this book.
Bio: Elizabeth Onusko is managing editor of Guernica. Read her last recommendation “here”:https://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1189/staff_pick_elizabeth_onusko_1/.