City of Thieves

City of Thieves Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After dawn, two guards rouse Lev and Kolya, laughing at Kolya's jokes. The guards lead Lev and Kolya outside to a waiting car, where Kolya cracks another joke. The guards laugh, while the driver of the car threatens to break Kolya's arm. After a standoff, the driver backs down, Lev scurries into the car, and they depart the Crosses. They head onto Kamenny Island and Kolya shares facts about the family who used to live in the mansion there.
Kolya begins to demonstrate his charm and ability to figure out how to play to an opponent's emotional and mental strengths or weaknesses. This trait will come in handy throughout the novel, but it also can be humorous and nerve wracking, as Lev is never sure if it's going to work.
Themes
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The soldiers stop at the old family’s mansion and lead Lev and Kolya inside, where they see dozens of NKVD (Soviet secret police) officers hurrying about their business. Lev shares with the reader that the NKVD arrested 15 men from the Kirov throughout his childhood. Some were returned, broken, and others, like Lev's father, were not returned at all.
Lev's father is still a mystery at this point, but Benioff is leaving clues for the reader to begin to piece together what happened to him. Russia at this time has relatively recently become Communist and is ruled by Stalin, a brutal dictator. Lev's father and these other men were arrested during the “Great Purge” before the war—a method for Stalin and his government to assert and maintain their political control. Lev, then, is loyal to Leningrad and Russia, but his feelings about the Soviet Union and its NKVD secret police are, at best, complicated.
Themes
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Lev and Kolya are pushed into a sunroom where a man sits at a desk on the phone, doodling X's. The man looks like an ex-boxer. As he hangs up the phone, he instructs guards to remove "the looter and the deserter's" cuffs, to which Kolya replies that he's not a deserter. The man—the colonel—approaches, not allowing Kolya to explain, and laughs when Lev apologizes for looting. He asks Lev if he stole anything else but food. Lev unstraps his knife and the colonel tells Lev how to appropriately use it before giving it back.
Kolya's inability to keep quiet when he probably should will be a blessing and a curse going forward. These scenes also continue to show how young Lev is as he tries to apologize for committing such a crime, but the colonel is seemingly charmed by Lev's honesty. The colonel’s easy manner and choice to give the knife back to Lev is mysterious at first, as Lev and Kolya were presumably brought here to be punished, but this hints at the adventure to come.
Themes
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Returning to the window, the colonel confirms that Lev's father was the poet. He commands an aide to bring Lev and Kolya breakfast, and then calls the two to step outside. An obviously well fed girl is skating on the river, and the colonel says that this is his daughter, and she's getting married next Friday.
Again Benioff creates mystery and intrigue by offering up these tidbits of information about Lev's father without answering any real questions. The colonel's daughter being well fed indicates that some people in Leningrad aren't suffering like others are. While Lev is loyal to Russia, there is a hint of Soviet corruption here, and how being willing to go along with the government can provide perks and comfort.
Themes
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Lev realizes that the colonel's teeth are false, and suddenly knows that the colonel had been tortured, just like his father had. Lev's father was Jewish, mildly famous, and named his book Piter, a name banned by the Soviets, who had renamed the city Leningrad (although Piter is still the nickname locals use for the city). Lev's father was taken in 1937 and never seen again.
Finally the reader is given some concrete facts about Lev's father and some further information about the extent of censorship in the Soviet Union. Notice too that despite Lev's youth, he's aware of the absurdity inherent in the colonel working for the same organization that tortured him. This realization further captures the way that the Soviet government finds ways to make people complicit in its goals – to not just torture or punish, but also offer comfort and power in exchange for joining them. As stated previously, “Piter” comes from “Petrograd,” the city’s name before the Revolution.
Themes
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The colonel continues, saying that his daughter wants a real wedding, which means they need a cake. They have all the ingredients except eggs, and he needs a pair of thieves to find these elusive eggs. Kolya is offended by being called a thief, but the colonel shuts him down. Turning back to the mansion, the colonel takes Lev and Kolya's ration cards and instructs them to return with eggs by sunrise Thursday. Kolya again shows an attitude, to which the colonel responds that Kolya won't live long, but that he likes him. The colonel writes a curfew waiver and hands it to Kolya, along with four 100-ruble notes. Kolya and Lev eat their breakfast and the colonel sends them on their way.
Colonel Grechko has a very different idea of what survival means. He places a great deal of importance on creating this show and event to demonstrate that the Nazis can't beat the Russians down or really starve out Leningrad successfully, though one might argue that he has simply found a way to justify seeking his own pleasure. Kolya’s attitude again indicates that he's incapable of staying silent when he probably should, and the colonel’s response shows both Kolya’s charm and the colonel’s more worldly knowledge of how things work. Meanwhile, though, the colonel is putting on his own kind of performance, showing off his power by sending Lev and Kolya on a quest for eggs in a besieged city that has none.
Themes
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Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon