Monday, April 22, 2013

"City of Thieves" by David Benioff

     We were in Joseph-Beth Booksellers a few weeks ago.   Lisa and I were talking books and looking around.  She saw City of Thieves in paperback at the front of the store and said,
“I highly recommend this.  It’s one of my favorite books of the past five years.  It’s this combination of witty humor and it’s really horrifying.”

     I went back that weekend and bought it and one of the salespeople said, “Great choice.”  After reading it, I thought I’d call Lisa and we’d discuss it.  

German Invasion of Russia

     Eric:  I liked the fact that it was about the German invasion and siege of Russia in WW II because it’s not dealt with much as a subject in American books.  So, Lisa, what did you think of the main relationship between the young Russian Army deserter with literary pretensions and the teenaged character based on Benioff’s grandfather?”

     Lisa:  It was an odd couple, certainly, because they had to work together to save their lives.
     Eric:  What about their initial mission?

     Lisa:  You mean to get eggs for the cake for the Colonel’s daughter’s wedding?  It’s something so extravagant and leisurely.  The Colonel’s mindset is ‘life goes on and I have to give my daughter everything in the middle of this siege.’

     Eric:  Did you guess which character was going to be Benioff’s grandmother?  You know, the woman who dresses like a boy and is a partisan sniper?

     Lisa:  Oh yeah, it’s been a while.  I read it in paperback from the library, I think.  I forgot who read it and told me about it.

     Eric:  Was it Robin or maybe Sallie?

WWII Despair in St. Petersburg
     Lisa:  Was it?  I cannot remember.  I just retained its crisp writing and it really moved along.  There’s just such a pace to it that I really liked, though it’s not really a page-turner.  There’s just an involvement that I got into it.  The writing really leant itself to that.  There weren’t a lot of wasted words – the horror of it.   Oh, my Mom (back in Massachusetts) read it in her book club and they all loved it, both the horror of it and that it just really captured this humor.  There was something endearingly sad about the pretentious literary guy.  I just thought it was a really well told story.

     Eric:  There’s something very approachable about Benioff’s writing for men and women.  His previous The 25th Hour (we both saw the movie), which I respected but didn’t like, though you and my cousin Kerry did, even though he writes primarily about young men’s experiences.  And he doesn’t soften it or make it – 

     Lisa:  He doesn’t sentimentalize it and this could have been.  He’s direct and matter of fact – 

     Eric:  Even though it’s a shaggy dog story that is an allegory that captures that moment in Russian and world history.

     Lisa:  What do you mean by shaggy dog story?

     Eric:  It’s a picaresque in which a young male learns who he is through various adventures and labors that he has to perform and it may not be a well-made plot.  Rather, it’s an exploration of identity.

     Lisa:  Right, of like an entry into adulthood.
     Eric:  Exactly.  And I think this would appeal to adolescents and adults even though it is violent, but they’d loved The Hunger Games.

     Lisa:  It obviously appealed to the elderly population of southeastern Massachusetts.  It’s appealing to so many people because of the beauty of its really good writing.

Hey David Benioff, sounds like a job well done!

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