Definitive Novel of the Siege of Leningrad
Harrison Salisbury wrote the definitive popular history of the siege of Leningrad, The 900 Days. City of Thieves may be the definitive novelistic treatment of the siege in English. Covering only 30 days or so relatively early in the siege, the novel relates the experiences of the narrator's grandfather discovering his right to live through the siege through an errand he runs for an NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) colonel in need of a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake. The grandfather, suffering under the double handicap of being a city boy and a Jew, accompanies a Rabelaisian army deserter on a grim, winter odyssey 50 kilometers into the countryside, through both Soviet and German lines, under attack by their own soldiers, by partisans, by peasants, by the regular German army and by the Special Action Groups scouring the country for the untermenschen not deserving of life. True to the feel of the time, to the geography and culture of the land and to the Russian soul, the novel captures a virtually perfect microcosm of one of the most brutal sieges against one of the most brutal regimes in world history. Its images are haunting, its language enveloping and its characters terrifically and fallibly human. It deserves its place on the Community book list.