Friday, June 4, 2010

City of Thieves (David Benioff)

Wow. So good.


From the guy who brought you The 25th Hour and the screenplays for The Kite Runner and—more importantly— X-Men Origins: Wolverine, comes a book about two guys trying to find a carton of eggs. Huh? Wait, this book is about a couple of guys just running around trying to find some eggs? There's got to be more to it than that...

Okay, so there's a little bit more to it than that. Lev Beniov is a teenaged boy living in Leningrad well into the Nazis' horrific siege of the city during World War II. Starving and lacking any hope of relief in the near future, he resorts to robbing a dead German paratrooper that lands outside Lev's building. Unfortunately, the dead Nazi doesn't have any food on him, and Lev is arrested for breaking curfew essentially without reward. Expecting to be executed alongside his handsome and outgoing cellmate, Kolya, Lev is surprised when he and his new friend are instead taken to a mansion on the other side of the city. They are met by a powerful Soviet colonel who sends them on a deadly mission: secure a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. Lev and Kolya's ration cards are confiscated as an incentive to comply, and the two are left with little choice but to search the city for a carton of eggs that they know they won't find.

Let me just get something out of the way here: this book is incredible. It's not some profound, paradigm-shattering epic that speaks to very essence of man. It's not a poetic masterpiece, sure to be cherished for generations to come because of its beautiful handling of the English language. Screw that noise. It's a 260-page novel with a plot that covers probably 240 of those pages. But damn, is it a good plot. Benioff writes conflict so well. No, really, so, so, so well. Everything that can go wrong for this poor kid Lev doesn't just go wrong, it goes horribly, hellaciously wrong. Early on in their journey, Lev and Kolya are confronted by a man who says he has eggs if they've got cash. They go with the man, but stay on guard. When he invites them up to his apartment, they're clearly a little skeptical, assuming they're about to get robbed. Nope, cannibals. Dude starts swinging a cleaver around, his wife coming at the pair with a knife, people's flayed corpses just chilling from meat hooks in the ceiling. Terrifying stuff. It doesn't get much better for the kid after that, either. They realize that the most likely place to find eggs these days is outside the city—the city that's surrounded by Nazis—on farms—controlled by Nazis—where farmers might still have chickens laying eggs—for Nazi omelettes or whatever Germans eat for breakfast. Oh yeah, and Lev's Jewish. We all know how much the Nazis love them some Jews.

Seriously, folks, this book is top notch. It's got love, war, cannibals, chickens, Nazis, hookers, death marches, paratroopers, candy made out of glue, Scandinavian rebels, sexy snipers, and a little bit of chess and poetry for all you cultured readers out there. Great conflict, great drama, beautiful characterization, and just overall fantastic storytelling. READ THIS BOOK!


City of Thieves
by David Benioff

Benioff keeps it simple: strong plot, strong characters, strong motivation. It's surprising how far good old rising action will take you.

This kind of thing has been done before, sure. You don't read this book because you're looking for something completely new. You read this book because you're looking for something to reassure yourself that strong, quality writing still exists and that a book can succeed on the strength of its story.

This book is extremely quick to read, extremely fun to read, and deceptively easy to get hooked into once you've started. Don't be surprised if you pick it up early one afternoon and find yourself turning the last page at 3 am, clueless as to where your day went.


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