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City of Thieves: A Novel Paperback – March 31, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 1,151 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Author and screenwriter Benioff follows up The 25th Hour with this hard-to-put-down novel based on his grandfather's stories about surviving WWII in Russia. Having elected to stay in Leningrad during the siege, 17-year-old Lev Beniov is caught looting a German paratrooper's corpse. The penalty for this infraction (and many others) is execution. But when Colonel Grechko confronts Lev and Kolya, a Russian army deserter also facing execution, he spares them on the condition that they acquire a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. Their mission exposes them to the most ghoulish acts of the starved populace and takes them behind enemy lines to the Russian countryside. There, Lev and Kolya take on an even more daring objective: to kill the commander of the local occupying German forces. A wry and sympathetic observer of the devastation around him, Lev is an engaging and self-deprecating narrator who finds unexpected reserves of courage at the crucial moment and forms an unlikely friendship with Kolya, a flamboyant ladies' man who is coolly reckless in the face of danger. Benioff blends tense adventure, a bittersweet coming-of-age and an oddly touching buddy narrative to craft a smart crowd-pleaser. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

In the six years since his critically praised début, "The 25th Hour," Benioff has produced a story collection and a handful of screenplays, including the blockbuster "Troy." The imprint of his film work is evident in this novel, a finely honed but too easily sentimental adventure story set during the siege of Leningrad. Lev, the mousy, virginal son of a disappeared Jewish poet, is jailed by the Russian Army for looting; in prison and awaiting execution, he shares a cell with a blowhard blond infantryman accused of desertion. When a strange colonel offers the pair an impossible task in exchange for their lives, they set off on a journey that takes them through a series of nightmarish war zones, populated by cannibals, prostitutes, starving children, and demonic Nazi chess enthusiasts. Benioff finds a good deal of humor amid the grisly absurdities of wartime, but does so at the expense of real emotional engagement.
Copyright ©2008Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452295297
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452295292
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Benioff was born and raised in New York City. He adapted his first novel, The 25th Hour, into the feature film directed by Spike Lee. With many other screenplays to his credit, he is also the writer of the films, "Brothers" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". Stories from his critically acclaimed collection When the Nines Roll Over appeared in Best New American Voices and The Best Nonrequired American Reading. His latest novel is City of Thieves. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Amanda Peet and daughter where he is a co-creator and writer for the HBO hit series "Game of Thrones."

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I would never have dreamed that a story set during the WW II Siege of Leningrad could be as engaging and darkly humorous as this book, but the Author has done a fine job of bringing a diverse set of characters to life, two of whom have been given an impossible mission (find a dozen eggs!) in an unbearable situation (the Blockade of Leningrad, and its consequent famine).

I have over a dozen books on the Siege of Leningrad (for a project I'm working on), and I have to say that the Author portrays the siege with accuracy, if not with full depth - in large part because the story is told from the viewpoint of Lev, a 17 year old boy. This doesn't give the reader an omniscient overview of "the big picture", but it certainly provides a very specific perspective on life in and around the city, and one well worth reading.

It's an "impression" of life during the city, and I have to say that with one exception - Lev would have been much hungrier and weaker in real life - a fairly accurate one. Readers of "The 900 Days" will recognize the inspiration for a specific scene, (Hint: Beware of well fed men in a famine) but how the characters react to what happens makes the action their own. And what characters!

The two main characters that carry the book deserve to be remembered as a classic pairing. Their interactions, observations and the journey they take on their absurd quest are one that I will remember for a very long time. Lev, the narrator, will remind most adult men of their own awkward youth. Wry, dry, frustrated and a little plodding, he is enormously sympathetic, while seemingly always in the process of doing a "Straight Man's Slow Burn" in a comedy routine. Kolya, an accidental Red Army deserter, is overly confident, irresistably charming and scatologically minded.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read some good fiction lately, but this one is special like "Catcher in the Rye" or "The Curious Incident" or maybe "The Kite Runner". Instead of telling the story, I will make observations as to why I loved it:

1. Many historical fiction novels are written from the perspective of the thinking of the time. Although it is interesting to observe how people think people thought in the past, it can be a little too un-modern and sometimes boring, like reading "Moby Dick" or some other great, but somewhat over the top book. Here, we are set back in time by the grandson who is just like us, telling the story his grandfather tells him, but with language and interpretations that are how we think about things today. Instead of finding this tool to be unrealistic and too Hollywood modern, I found just the opposite. I felt like I really was back in time and I related to the characters like they were my best friends and buddies. I loved this approach to history telling.

2. The primary relationship in the book is between a shy, 17 year old Jewish boy who is intelligent, clever, educated and a great story teller. There is a running dialogue in his head describing his sometimes ridiculous and unimportant thoughts and observations as life threatening things are occurring. His older buddy is a young "man of the world" a college boy who is experienced with women, a writer and philosopher, a handsome and sometimes arrogant guy. He puts his arm around his younger shy friend's shoulder and starts to teach him about wine women and song. It is a touching and fun relationship that works as well as any friendship relationship I've ever read. The observations of the younger as to the older's sometimes graphic and raunchy statements and experiences are absolutely brilliant and spot on.
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Format: Hardcover
David Benioff's "City of Thieves" is something of a coming-of-age tale with a twist. The twist is the fact that the tale is set in the besieged city of Leningrad in January, 1942. It is a city at war surrounded by the German army. The city is under martial law but its people are starving and fighting for food and even cannibalism is the inevitable result. The two `heroes' of the story, Lev Beniov and Kolya Vlasov are each picked up by the Red Army for crimes against the state. Lev is caught looting (taking the knife from a dead German soldier). Kolya, already a soldier is picked up and accused of desertion. Both crimes are grounds for immediate execution but the two boys are thrown together and given a `secret mission' by a Red Army officer, Colonel Grechko, who agrees to release them on the condition that they steal two dozen eggs in time for his daughter's wedding. The two dozen eggs are essential to make her a wedding cake. If they fail, they will be hunted down and shot. And with that bizarre quest ringing in their ears they are let go and sent out to scour Leningrad and the surrounding countryside in a quest for enough eggs to save their lives.

I liked City of Thieves for a number of reasons. First, Benioff does an excellent job setting the story up. It begins as a narrative of his own life as a writer and then evolves into getting his grandfather Lev to tell him the story of his experience during the war. All the author knows is that "my grandfather, the knife fighter, killed two Germans before he was eighteen". The story unfolds as a narrative told to his grandson.
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