City of Thieves by David Benioff. Penguin Books 2008. 258 pp.
This book begins at the start of World War II when the Germans are attacking Russia. A young teenager -Lev- who has been living with his family and fighting to survive the cold and starvation climbs over a wall that keeps them confined to a certain area. He and his friends have seen a German fighter who has fallen from the sky when his plane has been shot down and has died. They need so much and plan to loot the body. Unfortunately, the police arrive, and, although his friends get away, Lev is caught and thrown in jail. He is joined there by Kalya – a deserter from the Russian army. They expect to be killed, but instead are brought before the Colonel in charge who has an unusual assignment for them. He wants them to find a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake. There are none to be found in Leningrad so off they go to find some in the countryside.
Lev is young and naive and Kalya, wiser to the ways of the world, becomes his mentor and by the end of the story his close friend. Their quest takes them all over the countryside where they witness so much brutality that I had to put the book down and read something else for a while. The book depicts vividly how war can make good people into monsters and perhaps bad people into good. What they have to sink to and how people degrade themselves to survive are nightmares that will be with them the rest of their lives.
My review might not make you inclined to read this book, but it is one of the best books I have ever read. CM
True Grit by Charles Portis. The Overlook Press l968. 267 pp.
This book is a favorite for many, and is also for me. It was a treat to read it again after many years. The story takes place in Arkansas in the 1870s.
A 14 year old girl, Mattie Ross, is the main character in the book, and when her father is shot and killed by Tom Chaney, a dreadful man, Mattie sets out after him. She discovers that the authorities are doing very little to look for Chaney, so she starts looking for some men to help her. The two best she finds are LaBoeuf and Rooster Coggburn, although they are annoying men, especially Rooster. Now they will have to explore the Indian territory to the south. I loved reading this book. Mattie was someone to really admire. How she dealt with these other characters was amazing. It’s hard to believe that such a young girl could be as brave as she was.