Monday, September 12, 2011
AudioBook Review: City of Thieves
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book
This is a book that sadly sat on my "to buy" list for years. From the moment I read the jacket copy, I knew I had to read it and I was certain I would love it. Every time I stepped into a bookstore, I would pick it up, read the jacket and carry it around with me as I browsed, but something else always caught my eye and forced me to put City of Thieves back down. Then, for an incredibly long time, I stopped shopping in bookstores. (Part of the yin and yang of being a book blogger... most of the books I have are courtesy of wonderful indie publishers and authors looking for reviews, while the rest come from the endlessly overflowing local library book sales, thus rendering me incapable of purchasing brand new books for lack of time and space!)
But the recent Borders "Going out of Business Sales" enticed me to enter through their doors in search of some audiobooks to snag at a discounted price. I was about to leave home for a week, embarking on a 5 hour drive up to Massachusetts for a work thing, and I wanted something good to listen to on the way there and back. (God only knew how many radio stations I would pick up and lose on the trip. I have no patience with searching for new stations every 10 miles....)
Wait...I don't think you realize how big of a thing this is for me, shopping for audiobooks.
See, for most of my life, I've had a difficult time with them. Remember when we were kids and you could buy those books that came with audio tapes? They were so cool because you could follow along as you listened to the book being read to you. For me, it helped to keep me focused on the story - without the book, within 5 minutes of pressing the play button, I would suddenly find myself zoning out and completely lost, not having heard a word that was being spoken. And this habit has carried itself with me throughout my adult years as well. I'm an excellently disciplined reader. Plop me on a couch with a book in my hands and nothing can break my concentration. Not even sitting in the middle of kids screaming and fighting over the tv channels with the phone ringing off the hook! But put me in a silent car with an audiobook, and the entire thing is lost on me. My focus is out the window the moment the narrator's voice kicks in and I'm mentally listing off grocery items I need, thinking about upcoming episodes of True Blood, or quietly cursing the traffic. (I swear I am not like this when people are standing talking right in front me, or talking to me on the phone!) And then suddenly I remember - Oh Shit! I'm supposed to have been listening to this fucking book! How much did I miss? What the fuck is he talking about? How do I rewind? Did I rewind far enough? Fuck!
But recently, after attending the BEA and unexpectedly finding myself the owner of two free audiobooks, I decided to give them another chance. It's a miracle I still want to listen to the damn things after the shit I put myself through with these audiobooks - take a look at attempt #1, and attempt #2 to see why!
But I digress....
I popped into Borders, and headed over to their audiobook section. Being so late in the closing sale, the shelves were mostly picked through, and there wasn't a heck of a lot of fiction audio left. I did, however, find a copy of City of Thieves, which I happily grabbed. And this time, I did not let go! (I also took home an audiobook of Pygmy, which I absolutely do not recommend to anyone.)
The book is narrated by Ron Perlman - the odd-faced man behind HellBoy and the Beauty and the Beast series, who, believe it or not, has a wonderfully deep and lovely reading voice - and could easily become a contemporary classic lit novel.
The author, David Benioff, did an excellent job infusing this story of two Russian criminals - sent out on a dangerous journey in search of a dozen eggs during the Nazi's siege of Leningrad - with humor, culture, and pride. Young Lev, arrested by his own people for looting a dead fallen German solider, is a cautious worrywart. His cellmate, the cool, calm, womanizing Kolya, counts off the passing days based on the last time he has taken a shit and waxes poetic about an unknown novel entitled The Courtyard Hound.
Rather than face execution, which is the sentence for anyone arrested during the war, A Soviet colonel promises to set them free in exchange for a dozen eggs, which he needs in order bake a cake for his daughter's upcoming wedding. The kicker - there are no eggs to be had in the frozen city and the boys have less than a week to find them.
City of Thieves goes beyond the long, cold journey of these two strangers, peering straight into the heart of survival, the need for physical romance in a time of emotional upheaval, the lengths people would go to in order to ensure a meal awaited them at the end of the day. It deals with the suffering, mistrust, and hatred that the Nazi siege inflicted and infected Russia with.
Buried within the pages, or in this case inside the discs, there are encounters with cannibals, a rooster named Darling, discussions about sex and how to woo a woman, a chess game where life and death are on the line, and an extremely difficult passage for me to listen to involving a dog with a bomb strapped to his back.
Ron Perlman did a phenomenal job with the narration. His character voices were natural and subtle, so you always knew who was talking without being distracted away from the story. Unlike most of the other audiobooks I had listened to, he didn't attempt to make the women sound like women - those nasally, high pitched, whiny voices I had begun to believe were mandatory when narrating - and I love him for that.
I am really happy I picked this up as an audiobook because it's a great example of how audiobooks SHOULD be. And it finally gives me hope that I may find some others out there that are just as good. I am also thrilled to be able to move this book from my "to buy" shelf and into my "read" shelf!