City of Thieves

City of Thieves Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The following morning, Lev and Kolya are standing outside a building near the Narva Gate, where the boy in the Haymarket said they'd find the man with the chickens. The door to the building is locked, and Kolya asks Lev why he's grumpy. Lev tries to deny his mood but is undeniably grumpy, and answers yes when Kolya asks if he's thinking about the Kirov, even though he wasn't. Kolya then launches into a story about a lieutenant who'd come across a young soldier crying over a letter saying his family had been killed by the Germans. The lieutenant took the letter, put it in the soldier's coat pocket, and told him to cry now, but not again until Hitler is dead. Kolya contemplates the lieutenant's words, and Lev thinks that they sound like they were manufactured by a Soviet party-approved journalist.
The reader is aware that Lev is jealous of Kolya's activities with Sonya last night, but Kolya hasn't quite made that leap yet, which creates a sense of tension and dramatic irony for the reader. Lev, further, is embarrassed about his jealousy and so lies to try to hide it. Also, consider how Lev responds to Kolya's story about the lieutenant. Remember that the Soviet Union is censoring all sorts of media in order to boost morale during the war and portray Communism in a positive light more generally, but notice that Lev – whose own father was disappeared by the Soviet state – isn't buying that. Again, the novel makes sure that Lev’s complicated feelings about Russia remain in view.
Themes
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Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
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Lev asks if the soldier stopped crying. Kolya says that wasn't the point. The point is that the Nazis want the Russians dead and crying won't help. He shares that the lieutenant died stepping on a land mine days later, and Lev thinks that despite the clichéd phrasing, the lieutenant was just trying to help the soldier.
When the lieutenant is humanized, though, Lev’s thinking changes and he isn't bothered so much by what he's seeing as purely propaganda. Lev’s feelings about the Soviet state are, at best, conflicted, but his feelings about the Russian people seem to be positive.
Themes
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Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
Kolya tries to engage Lev in conversation, but Lev remains grumpy, telling Kolya to "go fuck a pig." Kolya is thrilled to discover that Lev is jealous, and Lev sits down on the steps. He asks Kolya what he was saying to Sonya the night before, and Kolya acts confused and suggests "the usual stuff." Kolya smiles and sits down next to Lev, insisting that Lev wants to know what to say when he finally has sex, which is a good thing. He tells Lev that women are offering something precious with sex, and begins a discussion of the qualities that make a nightmare lover.
Kolya is using his sexual experience here as a way to underhandedly exert a degree of power over Lev. Lev is at the mercy of Kolya's "teaching" since he doesn't have his own experiences to draw from. Again, this building up of Lev's lack of experience creates the expectation for the reader that Lev is going to at some point get to experience sex during the novel.
Themes
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Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Before Kolya can move on to what makes a dream lover, he and Lev see two teenage girls coming towards the building towing buckets of ice. Kolya offers to carry the buckets, and when the girls question his motive, Kolya tells the truth. One girl tells him the old man will shoot him, but they allow Lev and Kolya to carry the buckets up the stairs. Kolya keeps up a conversation with the girls and treats them like absolutely delightful young ladies, while Lev finds them boring and spiritless. Lev is envious of Kolya's way with women, even ones like these that he doesn't like.
Regardless of how Kolya describes himself and his sexual pursuits, he's undeniably charming and is willing to use his charm to get what he wants from these girls. However, the girls can confirm that the man guarding chickens on the roof is actually there with chickens, making the characters (and the reader) question what other siege myths might be true.
Themes
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Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
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Lev thinks he likes Sonya, and thinks that the thought of her is keeping him from dwelling on the thought of the Kirov's dead residents. Lev finds, though, that he can hardly concentrate on the people in the Kirov, who already seem unreal. Lev thinks that he learned to protect himself after his father was taken.
Lev has learned to disengage from the people around him and not get too attached after experiencing the loss of his father. Notice how the dead are turning into stories in Lev's mind as a protective measure against emotion.
Themes
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Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
As Kolya says goodbye to the girls, they offer to give them some soup when they come back down. Kolya and Lev head for the roof and are shocked to see an actual chicken coop. Kolya knocks on the door and when he gets no answer, toes the door open. He and Lev peek inside and see empty nesting boxes, a dead old man with an antique shotgun, and a boy wearing a woman's fur coat.
The siege has left no one untouched, even those who were fortunate in September. Even though these individuals had the chickens, which were supposed to provide eggs and then soup to their keepers, the boy and the old man are still dead or close to death.
Themes
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Russia and World War II Theme Icon
Kolya asks the boy if he needs water, but Lev sees that the boy is very weak. Kolya suggests they bring the old man to the street, but the boy replies, with great effort, that the old man doesn't want to leave the birds. Kolya tries to reason with the boy, saying that all the chickens are gone. Lev thinks the boy won't make it to tomorrow, noting soft down growing on the boy's cheeks and neck, and the boy continues to talk about the necessity of guarding the chickens.
It's obvious the boy is going to die – in part from his seeming delusion that the chickens are still alive and need to be protected. Notice the language Kolya uses to talk to the boy, calling him "soldier." Kolya meets the boy on his level, treating him like an adult while at the same time actually treating him as the child he really is. Underneath Kolya’s bravado is a way with people and a degree of true kindness.
Themes
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Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
As Kolya tries to convince the boy to leave the coop, Lev notices that there's something moving under the boy's coat. Kolya offers the boy money for the chicken and puts his money, a piece of sausage, and library candy in the boy's lap, and tells him that he and Lev will take him downstairs to the girls. The boy refuses, but then finally unbuttons his coat and offers the thin, bedraggled chicken to Kolya, saying he's tired of the birds and instructing Kolya to keep it warm. Kolya makes one final attempt to get the boy downstairs, and the boy tells Kolya and Lev to go away. As they head for the door, Lev asks the boy his name (Vadim) and thanks him for the chicken.
Kolya's attempt to get Vadim out of the coop and into the care of the girls again indicates that for all Kolya's posturing and swagger, he really is a caring person. When Vadim gives Kolya the chicken, the boy surrenders to his own death. It's indicated that he's not going to live even though Kolya leaves him with food and money, making Kolya’s gift of food a symbolic gesture and nothing more. And yet, in a besieged city where people are buying jars of dirt for food, that is a pretty profound symbolic gesture. Kolya is willing to sacrifice his own comfort in exchange for the comfort of a dying boy.
Themes
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