My favorite book of the year… so far
The year is a bit more than halfway over and I have a leader in the clubhouse for my favorite book of the year. The name of the book is City of Thieves, by David Benioff. I realize that this book was published in 2008, but I just read it so it’s new to me. Who would have thought that you could take a story about two strangers on a search for a dozen eggs, set in the utter misery and desperation of the siege of Leningrad and make it a funny, relatable, and utterly engaging story? At the time I started reading it, I had no idea that David Benioff was one of the creators of Game of Thrones. That didn’t influence my opinion of the book one way or the other, mostly because I’m one of the five people in America who didn’t watch GoTs.
When I was attending school in Japan back in 1985, I lived with a host family one hour outside of Tokyo. Depending on which direction you were traveling, my stop was either the first or the last on a direct line into the city. So, in the morning on the way to school I typically had a seat on a crowded train for a full hour, which was a luxury. Besides studying kanji and vocabulary for exams, I had plenty of time to engage in my favorite pastime – reading fiction. I read a ton of Japanese literature which I fell in love with. But I also had time to read works by the great Russian authors of the 20th century. As is often the case, if you told me I had to read War and Peace or Crime and Punishment as part of my humanities requirements I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed them nearly as much. But I chose to read those books and I absolutely loved them.
To me, City of Thieves has everything those classic novels contained. Even though War and Peace is famously long (almost 1,300 pages!), I found it to be an incredibly fast, entertaining read. The great Russian authors; Dostoevsky, Chekov, Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn, were all able to imbue their novels with a dark humor, a casual everydayness, set amongst a backdrop of some of the most horrific human experiences imaginable. I knew nothing of Benioff when I started reading the novel, and I admittedly know very little about him now. I assumed, as I read the novel, that he had to be Russian or at least of Russian descent. I don’t think either of those is the case, which makes his writing even that much more impressive.
If you’ve never read Russian literature, then I recommend you start with City of Thieves because it will give you a flavor of the style, and it will put you into a world that is hard to imagine, but one which brings out the human condition in all of its greatness; tragic and beautiful. If you are already a fan of Russian literature, then you will love this book!