A friend in my swimming group recommended "City of Thieves" by David Benioff. It's set in Leningrad during the Nazi siege. How cheery!
I was surprised to find that it was the best work of 'fiction' that I've read in a very long time.
I put fiction in quotes because it was difficult to separate truth from fiction. The prologue describes the author's visit to his Russian grandparents, who have retired to Florida. The grandfather has never spoken about his experiences during the war, but the trip inspired a weekend with a tape recorder. After three straight days of stories, the author says he'll need another session to fill in the details. "You're a writer, David - make it up!" says the grandfather.
And so the book begins.
It's a wonderful page turner that I couldn't put down. The language was so vivid, the weaving of details so artful, that after I finished it I had to re-read the last chapters to take it in again.
I expected horror given the setting and time period. Horrible things did happen, and the author didn't shy away from them.
But it was the humor and human connections between characters that took me by surprise. The characters were wonderful.
I'm recommending this book to everyone I know. I read a lot of technical and non-fiction stuff these days. It felt good to enjoy a work like this so much.