*****City of Thieves

Siege of Leningrad

The Siege of Leningrad (Dennis Jarvis, flickr, CC license)

By David Benioff – Santa put this 2008 book in my Christmas stocking, and though I’d listened to it in the audio version several years ago, I enjoyed it just as much the second time around, in print. If you asked whether I’m a fan of coming-of-age novels, I’d probably say “no,” but this is the second one I’ve recently given a top ranking.

The story takes place during the 872-day siege of Leningrad, one of history’s longest, in which the starving residents were reduced to eating the glue in their books. Two young Russians, strangers to each other, are thrown together on an impossible quest: Lev—a short, dark, Jewish 17-year-old caught looting a dead German—and Kolya, 20 years old, tall, blond, and charming, a Red Army private accused of desertion. Either of these crimes is punishable by firing squad, no questions asked, and they have only this one sliver-thin chance to save themselves: find a dozen eggs so that the daughter of an NKVD colonel can have her wedding cake.

Lev narrates the tale of how the two search the desperate, lawless city and the countryside thick with snow and Nazis, in their search. It begins: “You have never been so hungry; you have never been so cold.” And while there is misery in drifts, Kolya’s irrepressible nature brings much humor to the telling as well so that, as USA Today said, “This spellbinding story perfectly blends tragedy and comedy.”

Benioff is the co-creator and showrunner for Game of Thrones, and wrote the screenplay for The Kite Runner, so it’s no surprise he can tell an exciting story—and he can tell it well.