Benioff's fast-moving, cinematic and often horrific novel about the siege of Leningrad is a tour-de-force, but it's not ultimately to my taste - I don't like war stories and I don't like picaresque novels. Those who like the genre will be better able to judge this novel's virtues.
Lev is the shy, awkward teen-aged son of a poet murdered by the Soviets. He meets Kolya, a cocky, pseudo-sophisticated young soldier, when a dead German paratrooper descends on the town and the two of them search the body for whatever it might offer. They are both caught looting, and instead of being summarily shot, they are taken to a mysterious Russian colonel, who decides to spare their lives if they can bring him a dozen eggs for use in his daughter's wedding cake.
This quixotic egg hunt, in a city where people are eating the glue from book spines to stay alive, is one of several absurd and fantastical elements in the novel. Those surreal, almost fairy-tale elements, along with the immensely appealing character of Kolya, are what kept me reading when I ordinarily would have muttered, "war story" and shut the book.