City of Thieves

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City of Thieves Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Korsakov's orders, Lev, Kolya and the partisans walk single file in the snow, nine paces between each person. Lev, fighting extreme exhaustion, falls in and out of consciousness. He considers that the situation must not be real, and thinks that they're mice in the snow, looking for a sorcerer, hunted by giant black cats. Lev trips but doesn't lose his footing.
This is an extreme example of how the characters engage with fiction in order to maintain a degree of sanity. Lev is grappling with the thought that this is all ridiculous and a wild goose chase of sorts, which in a way his journey really is.
Themes
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Lev explains to the reader that Lara, Nina, Galina, and Olesya left the farmhouse when the partisans did. Since Abendroth had taken their coats and boots after Zoya ran, the girls had to layer sweaters and leggings. Kolya and Lev kissed their cheeks at the doorway and the girls, rather than heading to Leningrad, headed south, in high spirits despite the poor odds.
The fate of the girls is left mostly to the reader's imagination, but it's treated as likely that they won't make it to wherever they're heading. However, their story ends on a more optimistic note, now that they've at least achieved some degree of freedom.
Themes
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
Lev realizes he's been falling asleep when Kolya suddenly appears beside him. Kolya says he'll walk with Lev to keep him awake, saying he won't take orders from Korsakov. He turns the conversation to Vika, explaining to Lev that redheads (Vika has red hair) are "demons" in bed and hate men, thanks to the fact that they're descended from Vikings who raped Russians.
Kolya is certainly testing the boundaries of the friendship he’s struck with Korsakov, but we also see how his friendship with Lev has grown and developed. He again reminds Lev and the reader of his sexual experience and the history of conquest that shaped the Russian people.
Themes
Growing Up Theme Icon
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
Lev confirms that they're marching to the house on the lake to steal eggs from the Einsatzgruppe, but Kolya amends that to add that they're going to kill the Einsatz because they need to be killed. Lev doesn't reply, and thinks that Kolya is very much a true believer in the Russian cause, but isn't wrong about the Einsatzgruppe. Lev thinks that he just doesn't want to destroy the Einsatz himself, and considers that while the story of his quest would've seemed a great adventure a week ago, he now wishes he'd evacuated with his mother and sister (Taisya).
Here, Lev continues to grapple with his thoughts on the relative good or evil of the Soviet regime. It's undeniable that the Germans, and the Einsatz in particular, are awful and need to be stopped as Kolya suggests. However, Lev is still having trouble associating himself with the side that should represent good when it's also the side that robbed him of his father.
Themes
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Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
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Kolya brings up a scene from The Courtyard Hound, making the joke again that Lev hasn't read it, which Lev finds comforting. Kolya recites a passage and Lev compliments it, asking if Kolya has the entire book memorized. Lev then asks what Kolya writes in his journal, and shares a theory that Kolya is in fact writing The Courtyard Hound. Kolya demurs, but it becomes clear that Lev is correct, and Kolya cites Lev's father as inspiration. Lev asks why Kolya didn't tell the truth at first, and Kolya replies that he thought they were both going to die in the Crosses so it didn't matter what he said.
This is a defining moment for Lev and Kolya's friendship, as it's the first time that Kolya becomes truly vulnerable in front of Lev. Kolya experiences fear, just like everyone else, but similar to how Lev fears his own death most of all, Kolya fears being embarrassed or mocked. We again see the power that Lev's father has even in death. In a way, he's now mentoring Kolya as well as Lev through his work, which continues after his death. It’s also noteworthy to learn that Kolya really did think he would die in the Crosses, despite his rather nonchalant attitude (in Lev’s perception) at the time.
Themes
Growing Up Theme Icon
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Lev asks what Kolya was doing that night if he wasn't defending his thesis on The Courtyard Hound, but Kolya only says that it's complicated. Vika asks them if Lev and Kolya are going to have sex in the bushes, and calls them out for not walking in line appropriately. Kolya outs Lev as a Jew, and Vika calls Lev the first dumb Jew she's met, shoving them back to their places in line.
Kolya still isn't ready to be completely vulnerable in front of Lev, leaving some degree of mystery despite this new closeness. The reader is reminded once again that Lev isn't able to escape the fact that he's Jewish simply by not practicing the religion. This is also the second time that Vika makes a joke about her male comrades being homosexual—it seems that she must act especially aggressive and hyper-masculine in order to assert herself as a figure worthy of respect in the male-dominated world of warfare.
Themes
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
Lev thinks about the revelation that Kolya is writing The Courtyard Hound, and finds he's not angry. He thinks that Kolya fears embarrassment most of all. Lev tells the reader that his father had many writer friends who gathered at his house to debate and share their work. Lev describes how the drunk poets would sometimes stand and recite a poem as he watched from the hallway, eight years old. Usually the response was modest approval, and occasionally the poet received a "Bravo!", but more commonly they had to deal with silent disdain. The poet would stay long enough to not seem a coward and then leave, the remaining poets joking about the horrific poem. Lev thinks that Kolya protected himself by inventing the author Ushakovo, allowing him to test his work without fear of that silent disdain.
Lev has been around creative individuals his entire life thanks to his father, so he has an understanding already of how they function in the world with regards to their creative work. He describes the creative group his father was part of as relatively cutthroat and not necessarily a safe space for budding writers. It's implied that that this kind of a world and reaction is likely what Kolya would have experienced had he been upfront about writing The Courtyard Hound—or at least what he fears would happen. Keep in mind how Lev notes that the poets drank; this will be important later.
Themes
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Survival Theme Icon
Lev feels more awake after his conversation with Kolya. He wonders how the light of the stars works compared to flashlights, and why the sky isn't bright all the time. Lev finally runs into Kolya's back. Vika is on top of a boulder and calls down that the Nazis are burning villages. Lev explains that the Germans promised to kill 30 Russians for every German soldier killed, and were following through with that. Korsakov mutters that they're no longer heading for the house on the lake, since they've already found the Einsatz, out hunting for the partisans.
While Lev isn't experiencing quite the delusional fantasy that he was earlier, his scientific musings border on hallucination, alluding again to how tired he is and how he must experience some things from a certain distance to remain present and sane. We also see more the great violence of the war as the Nazis burn entire villages.
Themes
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon