Wednesday, December 22, 2010

City of Thieves

Have you ever wondered what writers read when they are not writing their next bestseller? In the December 17, 2010 issue of Entertainment Weekly author Stephen King lists the top 10 novels he read this year. Coming in at number 10 on that list is “City of Thieves: A Novel” by David Benioff.

Lev Beniov (a fictional version of the author’s grandfather) is 17 years old and barely surviving the 1942 siege of Leningrad. Arrested by the NKVD (Russia’s public and secret police force) for a variety of minor crimes Lev is thrown in jail. His cell mate is Koyla, a soldier charged with desertion. The two are complete opposites; Lev is awkward, unsure and pessimistic while Koyla is charming, confident and charismatic. Instead of facing execution, they are given the task of finding a dozen eggs to make a wedding cake for a powerful colonel’s daughter. The people of Leningrad are starving and there is very little real food to be found. Finding a dozen eggs under these circumstances is an impossible task and they have just 5 days to complete it or they will be executed. Lev and Koyla venture out into the lawless and dangerous streets of Leningrad and soon their journey takes them into the Russian countryside, behind German lines.

Lev’s narration is engaging and self-deprecating and Kolya often inserts humor into some pretty depressing and dangerous situations. The two young men experience firsthand the lengths to which people will go to ensure their own survival. You may find yourself wondering if this could be a fictional account of a true story or did Benioff use his grandfather for character inspiration.

Rounding out the rest of King’s top 10 list are “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell (published in early 2011), “Bloods a Rover” by James Ellroy, Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes, “Last Night in Twisted River” by John Irving, “Savages” by Don Winslow, “I’d Know You Anywhere” by Laura Lippman, “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen and “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace. (Entertainment Weekly 12.17.10 pg. 32)

~Amy, Adult Services

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