13 August 2008

City of Thieves

I just finished reading a wonderful novel called City of Thieves, by David Benioff. It seems a little odd to use the word “wonderful” to describe a story filled with the many horrible images of the Siege of Leningrad during World War II. But while the story is indeed holocaustal, it is actually a simple love story, told with great honesty and simplicity.

In the brief prologue, the author, a “Hollywood” writer, was asked to draft an autobiography. Upon reflection, he decided that while his own life’s story was too boring to tell, the story of his grandparents wasn’t. So he beards the old couple in their Florida den, and listens to their story. In the end, the author is begging for more minutiae, and his grandfather sends him on his way saying, “David, you’re a writer. Make it up.”

His grandfather is a fifteen year old Jewish boy in the old city of Leningrad, nee St. Petersburg. It is Christmas of 1941, and the city is deep into the brutal, two-and-half year long, Nazi siege. Millions of Russian civilians starved to death in the city, and the boy is simply another hungry citizen about to become a statistic.

The writing is clear and elegant. The story is perfectly populated with characters you can touch, and the action is by turns tragic and comic. Benioff is one of my new favorite authors, and I will seek out his other work.

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