Riddle me this: how do you find a dozen eggs during a siege that has left people to shoot horses for their meat and boil the glue in book bindings for its protein?
City of Thieves · David Benioff
Penguin, 2009 · 258 pages, paperback
Lev, the looter, and Kolya, the deserter who isn’t really a deserter (he left his unit because his “balls were ringing like a couple of church bells”), are two young men caught up in the summary justice of Leningrad under siege. Looting and desertion demand execution. But a powerful colonel has a daughter who’s to be married. The colonel’s decree? Let there be cake – and cake demands eggs.
The legno trundles through the turns in a wood that leads, ascending, to the small, picaresque, dirty Italian town of Monteriano and, within its walls, to Lilia and to Gino, devil’s temptation.
Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.
– Dante Alighieri, Inferno, canto I, 1-3
These first lines of Dante’s Inferno needle their way into Philip Herriton’s head as he leaves behind the straight-laced ways of his Sawston home and comes out on the side of a village whose character is one that throbs with impulsivity and slumbers in its laziness.