By: David Benioff
During the Nazis’ frightening and brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov awaits the moment a bomb will fall and catch his apartment building on fire. He is ready as the leader of a local volunteer firefighter brigade consisting of only himself and three other civilians, all of whom are starving. One night while watching the sky for the next attack, a dead German trooper drift down via parachute, and the group suspects that he may have food on him. Looting a corpse is a crime punishable by death in WWII Russia, but the enticement of a meal, no matter how small, is worth the risk.
The looting goes about as well as expected, and soon Lev is thrown into a dark cell with a handsome deserter named Kolya. Together, they must go on the unusual quest to find a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel. Eggs that will be used in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, the task will pose a unique and seemingly impossible challenge.
I usually don’t like books with lackluster main characters who are also mildly unlikeable. I am partial to characters with charisma and charm with at least a medium level of intellect. Lev is pretty boring and admits this to the reader freely, but his friend Kolya has enough charisma for both of them. Kolya is lovable but idiotic at times, so the two are definitely a balanced pair.
The aspect of this book I appreciate the most was the complete raw atmosphere and storytelling that didn’t try to hold back but also didn’t force drama. The casualties and horrors of war speak for themselves, and the novel felt real enough to me to believe that it actually had happened to the author’s grandfather as he states. That being said, one must always take into consideration that embellishments for the sake of storytelling are expected. Any good author knows this trick, and Benioff acknowledges this fact at the end of the first chapter. However, I honestly couldn’t tell you which parts are made up and which parts are true other than the dialogue (because whoever really remembers the things they say that clearly).
I also would like to give a warning that there are moments in the novel that will shock and horrify you beyond belief. In two sperate cases, I had to put the book down and calm myself before I could continue reading. Unless you are a sadist, you will cringe reading this book, and parts will upset you. Good. That’s the point. They should because war is evil and cruel. Only the leaders are safe. I honestly believe this novel could make excellent anti-war propaganda, even more so that Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
The ending may leave you hollow. That’s how it left me. I also knew this was a deliberate choice, and I give the author credit for the lack of satisfaction. If you don’t want a 100% peachy ending, don’t read this. But if you are someone that can stomach real horror and want a book that can float the fine line between gore and humor, this book may be something you want to pick up. This is not gore for the sake of gore though; everything has a purpose.
Also, unless you speak Russian or have an eidetic memory, good luck with all the Russian names. That was a trip.
Overall Rating: 4