City of Thieves

City of Thieves Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lara leads Lev and Kolya to a bedroom in the back of the house. She and Kolya come up with a code to signal to Kolya how many Germans come that night. After she leaves, Kolya disassembles his pistol, inspects it, and puts it back together. Lev asks if he's ever shot anybody, to which Kolya replies that he doesn't know if he has, explaining further that he's shot his rifle but doesn't know if he's hit anyone, but he'll know when he shoots Abendroth.
Again, we see how detached many soldiers must be, as Kolya describes not knowing if he's truly killed anyone. However, hearing about Zoya apparently galvanized Kolya's belief in the war effort, Russian superiority, and possibility of really fighting for a good cause.
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Lev suggests they leave, and says he can't stop thinking about Zoya. Kolya instructs him to think of her when he stabs Abendroth, but Lev says he doesn't think he can do it. Kolya asks what the record is for the longest time between bowel movements, deciding it's been 11 days now. Lev says that they should take the girls and head back to the city, but Kolya says that he and Lev are like two of Piter's bricks, in that you can't burn or starve a brick. After a minute Lev asks Kolya where he heard that, to which Kolya says it was his lieutenant, and he asks Lev if he's not inspired.
Remember that Lev is a very fearful person at his core, and being confronted with true and dangerous evil in the form of Abendroth is understandably very frightening. Kolya's repetition of his lieutenant's words brings to mind the idea of Party-approved propaganda or manufactured phrases, as it seems very contrived and doesn't impress Lev. Yet clearly many people derive courage or a sense of meaning from such clichés.
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Kolya says to forget about the bricks and again brings up his supposed “Gypsy” blood, saying he can read the future and that he and Lev are going to kill some Nazis and find eggs. Kolya continues, saying that he'll make the colonel invite them to his daughter's wedding, and says he's truly in love with her and if they married, she'd have to do nothing but skate naked on the Neva.
Kolya is trying to lift Lev's spirits and take his mind off of the horror of what's happening around them. This is another way that they're engaging with the war like it's unreal or a story, by using things like thinking about the colonel's daughter skating naked to escape into their own heads for a moment.
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Lev forgets his fear for a moment, but it soon comes back to him stronger than ever. He tells the reader he fears shame, Kolya dying, and pain like Zoya suffered, but mostly death. He continues that he never understood when people were scared of spiders or public speaking more than death.
While Lev is scared of many things, he's scared most of losing his own life. Consider that we know that Lev lives after the conclusion of his story, so the reader is aware that Lev will avoid his greatest fear during the war.
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Kolya leans down from the top bunk at Lev, looking concerned, and Lev muses that Kolya is the only one who knows he's still alive and afraid. Kolya drops a deck of cards into Lev's lap and says they'll cheer him up. Lev looks through the deck, which is the deck of sexy French women Kolya had offered to play for in a game of chess. Kolya says that after tonight he and Lev are going to be heroes for the girls in the house, and asks Lev which one he wants. Lev suggests Galina. After a moment, Kolya makes Lev promise to talk to Galina after tonight.
At this point, Lev and Kolya have become best friends by necessity—they're all the other has by now. Kolya is doing his best to comfort Lev, but he's also continuing to assert his dominance and masculinity by reminding Lev that he's less experienced sexually than Kolya is.
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Lev asks about how talking to Galina fits in with calculated neglect, and Kolya explains the difference between ignoring a woman and enticing her with mystery.
Remember that the girls didn't seem particularly impressed by Lev or Kolya (and it’s obviously understandable that they wouldn’t be looking for romance, considering their traumatic situation), so this makes it seem like Kolya is simply trying to comfort Lev.
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Lev and Kolya's conversation is interrupted by two clangs of a spoon against a pot as the Nazis begin to arrive, earlier than expected. Four more clangs on the pot signal six total, and they hear car doors slamming shut. Kolya says that they'll let the Nazis come in and have a few drinks. Lev agrees, terrified, and wonders if the girls will help them.
Finally Lev is going to come face to face with possible death, his greatest fear. Kolya, however, remains calm and logical, and wants to use the Nazis expectations against them. Once again he acts like he thinks a hero in a story should act, which seems to give him real-life courage.
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Kolya and Lev are startled by unexpected rifle shots and the sound of panicked German shouting. Kolya runs to the great room where the girls are lying on the floor, protecting their faces from shattering glass. They continue to hear bullets hit the house as Kolya asks Lara who's shooting at the Nazis. She doesn't know, and Kolya begins to creep towards the front door with his pistol. Lev follows with his knife, thinking about how strange the situation is and the absurdity of wondering how stupid he looks with his knife when everyone else has a gun.
In his fear, Lev mentally disengages from the situation and can only concentrate on thinking about how he looks and how absurd and silly the situation really is. While Lev certainly has a point (a knife wouldn't do much good against opponents with guns), this moment creates a tone of fantasy and reminds the reader that the situation is truly absurd (and possibly not even real at all).
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As Kolya is about to open the door, Lev notes that it's quiet outside. Kolya opens the door a tiny bit and they see Einsatzkommandos facedown in the snow. A bullet flies between Kolya and Lev's heads, sending them backwards. Kolya yells through the window that he's Russian, to which a voice responds that anyone with a few years of Russian could say that. Kolya, laughing, yells a complicated and overly sexual phrase out the window, which is met by silence.
As Lev and Kolya begin to make more contact with Germans, the concept of language will become very important. Kolya demonstrates here the simple fact that one of the best ways to demonstrate mastery of a language is by being able to appropriately use slang words. However, it's still a very tense moment, and nobody knows yet who exactly is outside.
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The voice outside asks what weapons Lev and Kolya have and instructs them to step outside. Nina, who crept into the hallway during the exchange, asks if the Nazis are dead. She looks worried when Lev says all six are dead, but tells Kolya that whoever is out there won't trust him. Lara yells through the window to please not shoot Lev and Kolya. Kolya steps outside and Lev thinks about recounting this adventure to Vera and Grisha—but then he remembers that they're dead.
Again, Lev is engaging with his adventure as though it's a story, and thus essentially disengaging from it. However, this instance of doing so is unsuccessful in really protecting Lev at all, as he's reminded of the Kirov's dead residents and experiences the hurt and pain from remembering that trauma all over again.
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As Lev steps outside, he thinks about how heroes and fast sleepers can switch off their thoughts, but cowards and insomniacs must deal with incessant brain babble. Kolya doesn't seem to be thinking at all. A voice from behind a hay bale instructs Kolya to shoot each of the Germans in the head to prove he's a Russian. Kolya agrees and moves through the snow, shooting the soldiers one by one. When he's done, a dozen men appear out of their hiding places. Most look like farmers, and some have Red Army boots while other walk in felt shoes. The leader's name is Korsakov, and he approaches Lev and Kolya while the others search the Germans.
Lev's mind remains fully occupied with the process of considering his own mind, that of Kolya, and the narrative in which they've found themselves. Lev and Kolya, as well as the reader, are likely realizing that they've finally stumbled upon the fabled Russian partisans that Lev and Kolya are supposedly organizing. Notice the explicit mention of the partisans' different footwear. This indicates the vast differences between various partisans, who are not an official unit like the army.
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Korsakov asks why Lev and Kolya are here, and Lara explains that they were going to kill the Germans. Korsakov tells Lara she can stop being a whore and to go inside and put clothes on. Kolya tells Korsakov he's being unkind, but Korsakov brushes him off and asks Kolya if he's a deserter. Kolya explains that their papers from Colonel Grechko are in the house. Lev notices that one of the men next to Korsakov is actually a woman.
Korsakov is using his power as a man and a potentially dangerous one to bully Lara. This underscores the fact that no matter which men arrive at the farmhouse, Lara and the other girls are at their mercy, and truly are not able to make their own decisions. Their wellbeing depends on the whims of their male visitors.
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Korsakov tells Lev to not look shocked, as the woman, Vika, is their best shot. Kolya begins a conversation with Vika about female snipers and Vika's German rifle. After a minute, Vika declares that Korsakov and Kolya are falling in love with each other, and heads for the farmhouse. Lev wonders what she looks like under all her clothes, and Kolya says that Lev has a crush. Korsakov laughs and wishes Lev luck, telling him to remember that Vika can shoot out his eyes from half a kilometer away.
Despite the fact that Vika is fighting with the partisans and appears powerful, at this early point she's not exactly allowed agency and an opinion—just a degree of respect and even fear from others. Lev's crush on her is validated by the men around them but not necessarily reciprocated by Vika herself, indicating that the power here to initiate doesn't necessarily include her; she is just considered a monolithic (if fearsome) figure.
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