The book is about an accidental friendship that develops between two prisoners during the siege of Leningrad. The prison boss informs the two that they will be set free if they can find 12 eggs in Leningrad for an upcoming wedding, a nearly impossible task. The book is the story of their adventure.
Like other great buddy books (think: “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”) and buddy movies (think: “Stand By Me”), this book was really about friendship and coming of age. Which is precisely what life is all about.
I’ve had some great friendships so far in life. In each, like Lev, the main character in “City of Thieves,” I’ve always gotten more out of the friendship. Of that I’m sure. I’ve stolen from them laughs and jokes, advice and maxims, theories and attitudes. Our buds help us grow up and figure out life. That’s why I liked this book—it reminded me of my many buddies and adventures we’ve had.
The best “buddy” friendships usually involve hijinks like skipping class and playing pranks and goofing off and laughing about inappropriate topics. For an Irish-Italian-Catholic-Democrat, these friendships may (usually) involve consuming beer or wine or whiskey and the resulting (and then retelling of) hilarious stories. Occasionally, and like in “City of Thieves,” these friendships can be set during sad and difficult times. Some of the saddest moments end up being the moments when we seal friendships that last forever. And while “coming of age” is usually thought of as a time when a young boy becomes a man, coming of age is really about growing up, no matter how old you are at the time. Speaking of getting older, some of my best buddies are older than me. A wise (and older) friend once told me that it is smart to have older friends, so they can tell you what’s coming. Indeed. Lately, the “coming of age” conversations with my best buddies have shifted from talk about choosing college, choosing girls, and choosing jobs, to more serious conversations about avoiding taxes, avoiding divorce, and avoiding death.
I’d like to think I’m a grown man now, maybe even someone who has come of age, and yet my buddy relationships are still as important as ever.
“City of Thieves” is thoroughly enjoyable. The author is also a screenwriter, and this is a book you can easily imagine as a movie in your mind. The plot had some interesting developments and surprises, but overall it was fairly predictable. That’s ok by me—it was still fun for a few hours. And most importantly, it reminded me of so many of my best buddies and the great adventures that life has given us so far.