Imagine Michael Chabon sitting down to write Crime and Punishment and you’ll get an idea of the tone of this darkly comic, Russian adventure. City Of Thieves (Plume, $15) follows two young men as they struggle through besieged Leningrad trying to find a dozen eggs for a wedding cake. Lev is a brooding teenager based on author David Benioff’s grandfather, and Kolya is a freewheeling soldier who considers himself a writer. In a world where even the glue in book bindings might provide sustenance, our heroes set out on a fool’s errand, indeed, one that turns into an incredibly perilous crusade as the pair encounters starving butchers, beautiful partisans, and brutal Germans. You’ll want to read it all in one sitting.
On the cusp of World War I, Paul Tarrant is ready to abandon his studies at the Slade School of Arts due to what his instructor has called a lack of feeling. While Paul struggles with the choices he must make, the woman he loves keeps him at a distance and war finally begins, dragging everything he knows into it. Pat Barker’s Life Class (Anchor, $14.95) deftly weaves emotional conflict with the horrors of a war we still struggle to understand. With a love story at its center, this book resists simple conclusions; rather, it plays out much like life itself, chaotic and imperfect, but beautiful nonetheless.
“Magic, religion, the occult—all of it—they are excuses to not believe that wonders are possible here on Earth,” says Nikola Tesla, the Serb inventor of alternating current and radio in The Invention Of Everything Else (Mariner, $13.95), by Samantha Hunt. This strange and marvelous novel portrays Tesla’s final days at the Hotel New Yorker in the 1940s, seen through the eyes of Louisa, a chambermaid. From his conversations with birds, Martians, and Mark Twain, to his ideas for inventions ranging from telepathy to teleportation, Tesla’s sensitivity and brilliance transcend such mundane considerations as poverty, sanity, and death itself.