City of Thieves

( 305 )


From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour and When the Nines Roll Over, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival — and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen ...

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City of Thieves: A Novel

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From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour and When the Nines Roll Over, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival — and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.

By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, the New York Times bestseller City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

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Editorial Reviews

Thomas Meaney
City of Thieves is a coming-of-age story brilliantly amplified by its war-torn backdrop…At times Lev and Kolya seem too free from the strictures of Soviet ideology: They each come equipped with an improbably deep understanding of their society. But for the most part, they and the minor characters satisfyingly inhabit the historical wreckage, and Kolya and Abendroth are especially memorable. But Benioff's finest achievement in City of Thieves has been to banish all possible pretensions from his novel, which never wears its research on its sleeve, and to deliver a rough-and-tumble tale that clenches humor, savagery and pathos squarely together on the same page.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Author and screenwriter Benioff follows up The 25th Hourwith 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.
Library Journal

Looking for the feel-good World War II book of the year? This tale of two miscreants in Soviet Leningrad might be the one, as Lev and Kolya bumble their way toward locating a dozen eggs for a stern Soviet colonel who needs them for his daughter's wedding cakes. The city is at the gates of starvation (achingly portrayed in realistic detail), so the boys set out into the enemy-occupied countryside. Delivering the eggs will release them from their death sentences, as Lev was caught looting the body of a downed German paratrooper and Kolya deserted his unit to visit girlfriends. Coming upon partisan cadres and Germans, they find little success in their perilous saga. With deftly sly humor, respect for the agony of warfare, and dialog that elevates the boys-to-men story beyond its typical male ribaldry, this second novel (after The 25th Hour) by screenwriter Benioff (The Kite Runner) deserves a bright spotlight in most libraries to attract readers young and old to its compelling pages.
—Barbara Conaty

Kirkus Reviews
Novelist and screenwriter Benioff's glorious second novel (The 25th Hour, 2000) is a wild action-packed quest, and much else besides: a coming-of-age story, an odd-couple tale and a juicy footnote to the historic World War II siege of Leningrad. It's New Year's Eve, 1941, and Lev Beniov is alone in Leningrad. (Note that last name: This novel was sparked by tape-recorded memories of author Benioff's grandfather.) The 17-year-old's mother and sister were evacuated before the siege began in September; his father, a respected poet, was "removed" by the NKVD in 1937. Lev's real troubles begin when a German paratrooper, frozen to death, lands on his street. Lev deserts his firefighter's post, steals the German's knife, is arrested by soldiers and jailed. His cellmate is 20-year-old Kolya, a boastful Cossack deserter, dazzlingly handsome in contrast to scrawny Lev, who hates his telltale big nose (he's half-Jewish); their initial hostility turns into the closest of bonds. Sparing their lives, for now, NKVD Colonel Grechko gives them a near-impossible assignment in this starving city: five days to find a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake. There's nothing doing on the black market. Then Kolya hears of a poultry collective . . . behind German lines. That's where they must go, decides Kolya, and Benioff makes his boundless self-confidence entirely credible. Over half the novel happens in enemy territory. Lev and Kolya stumble on a farmhouse where four pretty Russian girls are being kept as sex slaves by a Nazi death squad. (The connection between sex and death is a major theme.) The slave-owners are killed by Russian partisans, one of whom is the deadly sniper Vika, a young tomboy whosteals Lev's heart. Despite a "parade of atrocities," the pace will keep your adrenaline pumping right up to the climactic chess game between Lev and a fiendish Nazi officer. This gut-churning thriller will sweep you along and, with any luck, propel Benioff into bestseller land. Agent: Tracy Fisher and Raffaella De Angelis/William Morris
The Barnes & Noble Review
David Benioff has made a specialty out of crafting characters who achieve some measure of success -- fame, fortune, athletic prowess, or beauty -- but who simultaneously see through it. They are haunted by the compromises they've made to get to the top. A screenwriter, Benioff is best known in the literary world for his 2000 novel, The 25th Hour (later filmed by Spike Lee, with Benioff's script). That book featured a handsome New York city drug dealer named Montgomery Brogan -- a working-class boy forced to appear tougher than he felt -- who was whiling away his last hours as a free man before heading off to a notoriously brutal upstate prison. Monty was an antihero, but Benioff made the reader root for him as a self-aware cog in a flawed universe.

Similarly, in the short stories of When the Nines Roll Over, Benioff presented characters such as Tabachnik, a brilliant A&R man ambivalent about selling out his artists, and June, a prosaic waitress who knows getting her big break as an actress means leaving her pure-hearted boyfriend. Benioff's characters were smart but not happy, because their intelligence forced them to scorn easy consolations.

The characters in City of Thieves, set during the 1941 siege of Leningrad, are something different. They are idealists in spite of their own misgivings about the world; idealists in spite of their pronounced suffering. Benioff makes his hero a true underdog -- a bright but gawky 17-year-old named Lev who is a self-described "runt from birth." Lev has a big nose, "skin scribbled with acne," and "the pessimism of both the Russians and the Jews, two of the gloomiest tribes in the world." Lev is skeptical without being jaded. This is not because he hasn't had enough experience -- though he is a shy virgin, Benioff makes clear that Lev has seen and heard more by the age of 17 than most people will in a lifetime, including the "disappearance" of his father from the literary magazine where he worked -- but because disillusionment would require reaching a level of comfort impossible in a war-starved city, where the focus must be on daily acts of survival.

Benioff brings this sense of destitution to vivid life, depicting the autumn wind that blows only the shutter hinges of buildings, since the shutters themselves have been torn down for firewood. "Every wood sign, the slats of the park benches, the floorboards of shattered buildings -- all gone and burning in someone's stove." The rationed bread is so hard that people break their teeth trying to chew it. In a black market area where general's wives and party members once traded their jewelry and silverware for food (" 'So eat your silverware,' " the peasants say, if anyone objects to the price), men are now selling glasses of dirt. "Badayev Mud," it's called, "taken from the ground under the bombed food warehouses and packed with melted sugar." Another vendor sells "library candy, made from tearing the covers off of books, peeling off the binding glue, boiling it down, and reforming it into bars you could wrap in paper."

Lev chooses to remain in Piter (the name "every native used, but banned from all Soviet text because 'Saint Petersburg' was a czar's arrogance") when his mother and sister are evacuated, shortly before the Germans encircle the city. He does so out of an adolescent's desire for adventure, "flooded with a belief in my own heroic destiny." Volunteering as a firefighter on the roof of his building at night, he mans water buckets, sand, iron tongs, and shovels while he and other residents search the sky for bombs. When Lev abandons his post to loot a German paratrooper's body for food, breaking a strict curfew, he is arrested and placed in a prison cell with a man named Kolya, a beautiful Cossack with high cheekbones and hay-blond hair, eyes "blue enough to please any Aryan." Kolya is a smooth-talking swindler accused of deserting his Red Army unit. His life, like Lev's, is temporarily spared only because a ruthless NKVD colonel needs help with a particular task: finding a dozen eggs, within the next five days, to make the cake for his daughter's wedding. "My men say there are no eggs in Leningrad," the iron-faced colonel informs Lev and Kolya, "but I believe there is everything in Leningrad, even now. I just need the right fellows to find it. A pair of thieves."

It is a truism of the adventure story or quest narrative that the object to be attained (the Holy Grail, the hidden treasure, the power-giving rings) is of less importance than the journey itself, which forges the hero's character. In City of Thieves, the quest for a dozen eggs takes Lev and Kolya behind German lines in the devastated countryside, brings them into contact with dangerous partisans and ravenous cannibals, leads to their capture and the murder of several high-ranking Nazis -- but the eggs serve primarily as a means to the book's larger end, which is showing how a friendship forms between the insecure Lev and the wily Kolya. Their odd-couple banter, which consists primarily of Kolya's boasting of his sexual conquests and Lev's doubtful rejoinders, does not contain a single false note. As befits an accomplished screenwriter, Benioff moves the plot along with a suspenseful celerity. His prose is scrupulously, almost unnervingly excised of inessential detail -- the starkness of Hemingway crossed with the authenticity of Richard Price.

There are times when this world feels too seamlessly rendered, the loose ends tied up too neatly when what one wants is some enduring mystery, the ambiguity associated with more complex literature. But the novel Benioff has written is one where characters poke holes in the notion of artistic greatness, and rightly so. One of its best scenes occurs when Kolya and Lev hear a pianist playing in a dark house, on a deserted Leningrad street. There are shells falling off in the distance and the music is strange and unfathomable. It is a song that Lev, who knows all of Mahler and can "identify any of Chopin's twenty-seven etudes after hearing a few bars," has never heard. "It was music for wartime," he thinks, and "when it ended, something seemed wrong: the performance was too good to go unacknowledged, the performer too skilled to accept no applause. For a long moment we were silent, staring up at the dark windows." Lev believes it could be Shostakovich himself, but Kolya spits on the sidewalk at the thought.

"They evacuated Shostakovich three months ago," he says. The ordinary people -- the ones who have yet to distinguish themselves -- are all that remain, and they must fend for themselves. --Andrea Walker

Andrea Walker is on the editorial staff of The New Yorker. Her reviews have appeared in Bookforum, The Hartford Courant, and the Times Literary Supplement.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452295292
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/31/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 36,964
  • Lexile: 910L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.35 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet 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 and daughter where he is a co-creator and writer for the HBO hit series "Game of Thrones."  

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Read an Excerpt

You have never been so hungry; you have never been so cold. When we slept, if we slept, we dreamed of the feasts we had carelessly eaten seven months earlier—all that buttered bread, the potato dumplings, the sausages—eaten with disregard, swallowing without tasting, leaving great crumbs on our plates, scraps of fat. In June of 1941, before the Germans came, we thought we were poor. But June seemed like paradise by winter.

At night the wind blew so loud and long it startled you when it stopped; the shutter hinges of the burnt-out café on the corner would quit creaking for a few ominous seconds, as if a predator neared and the smaller animals hushed in terror. The shutters themselves had been torn down for firewood in November. There was no more scrap wood in Leningrad. Every wood sign, the slats of the park benches, the floorboards of shattered buildings—all gone and burning in someone's stove. The pigeons were missing, too, caught and stewed in melted ice from the Neva. No one minded slaughtering pigeons. It was the dogs and cats that caused trouble. You would hear a rumor in October that someone had roasted the family mutt and split it four ways for supper; we'd laugh and shake our heads, not believing it, and also wondering if dog tasted good with enough salt— there was still plenty of salt, even when everything else ran out we had salt. By January the rumors had become plain fact. No one but the best connected could still feed a pet, so the pets fed us.

There were two theories on the fat versus the thin. Some said those who were fat before the war stood a better chance of survival: a week without food would not transform a plump man into a skeleton. Others said skinny people were more accustomed to eating little and could better handle the shock of starvation. I stood in the latter camp, purely out of self-interest. I was a runt from birth. Big-nosed, black-haired, skin scribbled with acne—let's admit I was no girl's idea of a catch. But war made me more attractive. Others dwindled as the ration cards were cut and cut again, halving those who looked like circus strongmen before the invasion. I had no muscle to lose. Like the shrews that kept scavenging while the dinosaurs toppled around them, I was built for deprivation.

So I was too young for the army but old enough to dig anti-tank ditches by day and guard the roofs by night. Manning my crew were my friends from the 5th floor, Vera Osipovna, a talented cellist, and the redheaded Antokolsky twins, whose only known talent was an ability to fart in harmony. In the early days of the war we had smoked cigarettes on the roof, posing as soldiers, brave and strong and square-chinned, scanning the skies for the enemy. By the end of December there were no cigarettes in Leningrad, at least none made with tobacco. A few desperate souls crushed fallen leaves, rolled them in paper and called them Autumn Lights, claiming the right leaves provided a decent smoke, but in the Kirov, far from the nearest standing tree, this was never an option. We spent our spare minutes hunting rats, who must have thought the disappearance of the city's cats was the answer to all their ancient prayers, until they realized there was nothing left to eat in the garbage.

We had a little radio on the roof with us. On New Year's Eve we listened to the Spassky chimes in Moscow playing the Internationale. Vera had found half an onion somewhere; she cut it into four pieces on a plate smeared with sunflower oil. When the onion was gone we mopped up the remaining oil with our ration bread. Ration bread did not taste like bread. It did not taste like food. After the Germans bombed the Badayev grain warehouses, the city bakeries got creative. Everything that could be added to the recipe without poisoning people was added to the recipe. The entire city was starving, no one had enough to eat, and still, everyone cursed the bread, the sawdust flavor, how hard it got in the cold. People broke their teeth trying to chew it. Even today, even when I've forgotten the faces of people I loved, I can still remember the taste of that bread.

Half an onion and a 125-gram loaf of bread split four ways—this was a decent meal. We lay on our backs, wrapped in blankets, watching the air raid blimps on their long tethers drifting in the wind, listening to the radio's metronome. When there was no music to play or news to report, the radio station transmitted the sound of a metronome, that endless tick-tick-tick letting us know the city was still unconquered, the Fascists still outside the gate. The broadcast metronome was Piter's beating heart, and the Germans never stilled it.

It was Vera who spotted the man falling from the sky. She shouted and pointed and we all stood to get a better look. One of the searchlights shone on a parachutist descending towards the city, his silk canopy a white tulip bulb above him.

“A Fritz,” said Oleg Antokolsky, and he was right, we could see the grey Luftwaffe uniform. Where had he come from? None of us had heard the sounds of aerial combat or the report of an AA gun. We hadn't heard a bomber passing overhead for close to an hour.

“Maybe it's started,” said Vera. For weeks we'd been hearing rumors that the Germans were preparing a massive paratrooper drop, a final raid to pluck the miserable thorn of Leningrad from their advancing army's backside. At any minute we expected to look up and see thousands of Nazis drifting toward the city, a snowstorm of white parachutes blotting out the sky, but dozens of searchlights slashed through the darkness and found no more enemies. There was only this one, and judging from the limpness of the body suspended from the parachute harness, he was already dead.

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Reading Group Guide


At the age of thirty-four, David, an Los Angeles–based screenwriter specializing in mutant superhero films, is asked to write an autobiographical piece for a trade magazine. Unable to muster any enthusiasm for his easy and undeniably pleasant American youth, he hops on a Florida-bound plane to interview his Russian grandfather about life in Leningrad during World War II. Mild-mannered Lev Beniov is reputed—by unspoken family lore—to have killed two Nazis in a knife fight that cost him a single fingertip. David asks to hear the true story, so Lev reaches into the distant past to share the horrors, privations, and adventures that the famously besieged city offered one young boy on the brink of manhood.

A Jew and the son of a poet who was "disappeared" by the NKVD (the Soviet secret police), Lev was nonetheless an ardent patriot who believed in the justness of the Soviet cause and enough of a naïf to still believe in the romance of war. Although too young to join the army, Lev refused to flee with his mother and sister, and proudly serves as commander of his apartment building's volunteer fire brigade. "I was seventeen, flooded with a belief in my own heroic destiny," (p. 9) he remembers. But his youth might still have passed uneventfully had a dead Nazi paratrooper not fallen onto his street one night. Lev and his friends—tempted by the prospect of chocolate or other contraband—break curfew to loot the body.

Lev alone is caught, arrested, and thrown into Leningrad's infamous prison, the Crosses. His cellmate, Kolya, is a soldier who's just been arrested for desertion and together the two await the dawn and almost certain execution. Lev is petrified, but Kolya is everything that Lev is not; boisterous and bombastic, handsome and charming, and annoyingly optimistic. "They're not preserving us for the night just to shoot us tomorrow," (p. 23) Kolya says as he drops off into a seemingly untroubled sleep. Miraculously, he is right. In the morning, the two are granted a reprieve conditional upon their acquiring a dozen eggs for the wedding cake of a powerful NKVD colonel's daughter within five days.

The task is preposterous. It is January—smack in the cold heart of a harsh Soviet winter—and the city has been cut off from all supplies for months. Most of Leningrad barely staves off starvation with miserly portions of sawdust-filled ration bread, but Lev and Kolya gamely set off to find their grail in a city where rats are hunted for their meat and the bindings of library books are boiled down for their nutrient-rich glue.

At first, Lev loathes Kolya, who teases him about being a Jew and whose every word and action he finds insufferable. Yet as they wend their way through Leningrad's black market underbelly and out into the battle-ravaged countryside, the timid, virginal Jew and his Cossack antithesis reveal themselves in ways that allow chinks of sympathy—and, ultimately, friendship—to grow.

A beguiling new novel from the acclaimed author and screenwriter of The 25th Hour, City of Thieves is a winning picaresque tale that illuminates the timeless struggles of growing up against the dramatic backdrop of Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union.


David Benioff is an author and screenwriter. His first novel, The 25th Hour, was adapted into a popular feature film. His short story collection, When the Nines Roll Over, received critical acclaim. He lives in Los Angeles and New York City.


Q. City of Thieves begs the question: Did all this really happen to your grandfather?

No. My grandfather was born on a farm in Delaware. He became a furrier and died in Allentown, Pennsylvania. My grandmother (unlike the non-cooking grandmother in the book) made the best chopped chicken liver in the state. Neither one, as far as I know, ever visited Russia.

Q. David notes, "Truth might be stranger than fiction, but it needs a better editor." (p. 4) How much "editing" did you do?

See answer to number one. A whole lot.

Q. How much additional research did you do to write this novel?

I had a wonderful teacher once, the novelist Ann Patchett. I asked her about the research she did for The Magician's Assistant, and she told me to choose the single best book on the given subject and study it obsessively. Writers are always tempted to track down dozens of books to help give our make-believe stories that tang of authenticity, but often the problem with too much research is a writing style that seems too researched, dry and musty, and eager for a history teacher's gold star of approval.

Unfortunately, my will was not strong enough for me to follow Ann's advice. I did end up reading dozens of books on the Siege of Leningrad. In her honor, though, I picked one that became my Bible: The Nine Hundred Days by Harrison Salisbury. He was the first Western journalist to have access to Leningrad once the siege was lifted. He spoke firsthand with hundreds of Russians who survived the siege, and he collected as many diaries, journals, and letters as he could. The second most important book for me was Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte. A former Fascist, Malaparte was essentially an embedded journalist before the concept existed. He rode along with the German and Finnish forces during the early months of Barbarossa and his accounts provided me a necessary glimpse of the invaders' mindset, tactics, and appearance.

Q. You're a successful Hollywood screenwriter. The Kite Runner is something you recently adapted for film. Why did you make David a writer of "mutant superhero" movies?

David, the narrator of the prologue, is not David the guy writing these words. The David of the novel (who might or might not be David Beniov; it is not clear whether Lev Beniov is David's paternal or maternal grandfather) is similar to me in many respects, but he's not me. That said, I did write the screenplay for Wolverine, featuring a mutant superhero.

Q. In the novel, David "realized I had led an intensely dull life. . . . I didn't want to write about my life, not even for five hundred words." (p. 3) Would you have preferred—as the Chinese curse says—to live in "interesting times"?

Unfortunately, these are interesting times. The narrator goes on to say that he enjoys his life; and I do, too.

Q. At first glance, City of Thieves and The 25th Hour seem to tell very different stories—one is historical and set during a time of great societal upheaval, while the other is contemporary and deals with one man facing his own crimes. Yet both are ultimately about young men and friendship. What draws you to write a particular story?

That's a hard question to answer. In both cases the stories were stuck in my mind for years before I wrote them. The 25th Hour was based on a short story I wrote in college. Seven years after I wrote the story, the characters were still chattering in my brain, which seemed to me a good sign that I wasn't finished with them.

For City of Thieves I had the characters and story in 2000 but could never quite figure out how to write the novel. I kept shifting back and forth between first person and third person. I rewrote the opening page at least a dozen times. Finally, in September 2006, I got cracking for real.

Q. If you were in Lev's place, do you think you would have chosen to stay in Leningrad or would you have left with your mother and sister? Why?

I don't know. If something happened to my mother and sister on their way to safety, the guilt would probably destroy me. At the same, if you're a teenage boy, living in the center of the greatest armed conflict in the history of the world, you don't want to flee. You want to do your part and protect your city.

Q. A lot of what Lev sees and experiences could be described as tragic, yet his story is told with a lot of humor. What made you decide to give the novel its light-hearted tone?

I'm not sure if light-hearted is the right word for a story that includes cannibalism, forced prostitution, involuntary amputation, and starvation. What inspired the humor was reading the diaries of the Leningrad survivors. Their daily accounts of their struggles are often grim, but almost always hopeful and full of life. People continued attending (and performing in) concerts, plays, and poetry readings despite all the suffering around them.

Q. What are the differences between writing for film and writing a novel? What do you like and dislike about each?

Screenplays are much shorter: Twelve weeks and you're done. A novel can take years. Writing a novel is an endurance sport, a marathon, while a screenplay (or a short story) is more of a middle-distance race—800 meters, say. To extend this possibly inane analogy, a poem would be a sprint in a stadium with no spectators.

Q. What are you working on now?

A series for HBO. We'll see if it ever gets made.


  • David wants to hear about his grandfather's experiences firsthand. Why is it important for us to cultivate and preserve our oral histories? Do you have a relative or friend whose story you believe should be captured for posterity?
  • Lev's father is taken—and almost certainly killed—by the NKVD, yet Lev himself stays behind to defend Leningrad. How do you think he reconciled his patriotism to his love for his father?
  • In the midst of a major historical moment, Lev is preoccupied with thoughts of food and sex. What does this tell us about experiencing history as it unfolds?
  • From the cannibals in the market to the sex slaves in the farmhouse, there are numerous illustrations of the way in which war robs us of our humanity. In your opinion, what was the most poignant example of this and why?
  • Kolya tells Lev that the government should "put the famous on the front lines" (p. 67) rather than use them as the spokespeople for patriotic propaganda. Do you agree or disagree? Can you think of any contemporary instances of this practice?
  • Aside from the sly pride that Lev notices, are there any other clues that give Kolya away as the true author of The Courtyard Hound?
  • Do you think Markov's denouncer should have remained silent about the partisan's presence? Did either of them deserve to die?
  • Even moments before Lev pulls his knife on the Sturmbannführer, he thinks: "I had wanted him dead since I'd heard Zoya's story. . . . [But] I didn't believe I was capable of murdering him" (p. 228). Do you think everyone—given the right motivation—is capable of killing another human being? Could you?
  • Lev takes an instinctive dislike to Kolya yet comes to consider him his best friend. What was the turning point in their relationship?
  • Lev says that Vika "was no man's idea of a pinup girl," (p.149) but he is instantly infatuated. Would he have been drawn to her had they met in different—safer—circumstances?
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  • Posted September 5, 2009

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    City of Thieves by David Benioff

    City of Thieves is a coming-of-age voyage (to find a dozen eggs no less) in the war torn city of Leningrad, Russia. It is the winter of 1941 and the German Army has besieged the city. Rations are non-existent, citizens are dying by the hundreds, and everyone lives in fear of being overrun by the enemy. They have no alternative but to fight for survival. Lev and Kolya, young teen-age Russians, are arrested, Lev for looting a dead paratrooper, and Kolya for desertion. With their arrests both are destined to take a short trip that ends with their backs poised against a wall brushed with blood. But before their execution in the face of a firing squad they are given a reprieve by the city's acting military commander. They are ordered on a mission to find a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. They are given less than a week to complete their task and their ration cards are confiscated. Without a means of obtaining food what else can they do but try and fulfill the task. But in a city that has resorted to cannibalism where could they possibly find what they search for? The story develops as the two young men head off in search of the prized components.

    Based on the true-life adventures of Benioff's grandfather we are transported to a city that has fallen on the hardest of times. Starvation, desperation, and self-preservation are the only law in Leningrad and that image of desolation and destruction lays the groundwork for the rest of the story. The quest for eggs takes them to a private whore house in the woods, to Russian partisans in the rural outskirts of the city, and to a German military camp where the final stand-off is played over a chess set. Benioff explores the grief and indifference of the characters while they hide from snipers, infiltrate a line of captured prisoners and eventually find what they were looking for. Peace!

    This is a true heart-rending story written with love, care and consideration. Well worth the read.

    4 ½ stars out of 5

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Can't Wait for the Movie!

    Perhaps the finest work of historical fiction I have read in decades. The author draws the reader in via a slick bit of writing that sets the stage for a leap back to wartime St. Petersburg. There follows a development of characters that is truly exceptional. This is a book that hooks the reader in a fashion that moves from not wanting to put it down to can't put it down.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 26, 2012

    Excellent book

    I have read many books set in World War II since I find that time period fascinating, however, most are set in Western Europe. This story took place in Leningrad and involves the unlikely friendship between an accused deserter of the Russian army and a seventeen year old Jewish boy. The story was, in turn, humorous, sad, horrifying and touching. Definitely worth reading.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 27, 2011

    My Gracious

    This was such an exciting read; I couldnt put it down. I was hooked from beginning to end. Easily my favorite book on Earth. You are missing out if you dont read this book.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2009

    The horror of war captured through the eyes of a teenage boy in Leningrad

    City of Thieves by David Benioff is the fictionalized story of the author's grandfather's experiences in World War II Leningrad. Lev Beniov has remained in the city during the siege by the Germans, despite the evacuation of his mother and sister. Living in an apartment building with other teens, they've become a family of sorts, but when he is caught looting the body of a German paratrooper, Russian soldiers take him to prison to be executed. His cellmate for the evening is Kolya, a soldier accused of deserting his post. In the morning, instead of facing a firing squad, Lev and Kolya are ordered by a general to find a dozen eggs in five days time for his daughter's wedding cake. In a city that has resorted to eating the paste out of library books for the protein, this is a Herculean task, but if they don't succeed, the men will be hunted down by the general's men and lose their ration cards, either outcome meaning certain death. The two travel the city in the quest for eggs and come across horrific scenes of depravity along with startling compassion and generosity. Their quest for the eggs becomes something more, elevating and teaching Lev and Kolya about what it means to be human and to fight for something bigger than themselves.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2010

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    Very enteraining book!!!

    It was a very good book. It is a work of fiction, but still has a lot of historical events that took place. The characters were very believeable and there was a good story line. I am trying to get my teenage kids to read the book, just so they can see what World War II might have been like in Russia. It had funny moments, a few scary/tight spot moments and even had a little romance in it. A very entertaining book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2010

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    Incredible Writing Style

    David Benioff needs to write another book, as I'm impatiently waiting! City of Thieves was fabulous. I can't say enough about his writing style. Great character development, great storytelling that moves forward, humor and emotion often in the same sentence. He's incredible. After reading this, I grabbed his other books without even seeing what they were about. I can't get enough.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2009

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    Readers will want to join Kolya and Lev on their quest to find the Holy Grail: a dozen eggs.

    During the Nazi siege of Leningrad, seventeen year old Lev Beniov remains in the city alone as his dad "officially" vanished several years earlier and his mom and sis were evacuated. However, he is unable to stay in hiding as he needs food, but he is caught looting. The Germans execute looters on the spot. Yet Nazi Colonel Grechko offers Lev and equally guilty twenty year old Russian army deserter Kolya a chance to live. They are to obtain twelve eggs in five days for his daughter's wedding cake; failure means death.

    They quickly know the black market has nothing for sale. Thus the duet works their way behind the Nazi line as they assume nearby farms are their best bet. Lev and Kolya stumble onto a Nazi death squad sexually abusing Russian women and help the partisans kill the Nazi beasts. As they witness more atrocities, the unlikely duo becomes friends while Lev is attracted to kick-butt partisan sniper Vika.

    This deep look at the atrocities of war stars a coming of age odd couple who forge a friendship out of surviving the abuses they encounter in spite of Kolya being a confident extrovert and Lev a self mocking introvert with the latter telling their story. The story line is fast-paced with plenty of action; much of which accentuates the abuses, carnage, and the scarcities the civilian population face. Readers will want to join Kolya and Lev on their quest to find the Holy Grail: a dozen eggs.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 13, 2009

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    Good balance of comedy and tragedy

    This book has all the makings of a coming of age historical foreign movie (makes sense, the author is also a screenwriter). I can actually picture the movie in my head and watching it. It's something I would watch. It's both funny yet certain parts remind me of the horrors of war still thriving within the city. The story is told in the point of view of Lev who's young and stays behind while his mother and sister move away from the city. His father, is most likely dead, as he gets arrested and is never seen again. When he meets Kolya, the charming deserter who seems to have a tale for everything and has to say something every waking moment, they make a comical duo. Lev is very surly at first and is annoyed frequently by Kolya, who doesn't really care what he thinks of him and keeps on going with his little quirks and stories of his various romantic conquests and how he hasn't gone to the bathroom in a very long time.

    I liked this book because of its' interesting mix of comedy and drama set in a rather serious and sombre setting. Come to think of it, I haven't even read a book set in World War II where there is comedy in it. In fact I think it's quite a rarity, yet this kind of rarity, and written and executed well, makes it a rare gem. I have to admit, I liked Kolya from the start. You could tell he was the comic relief of the duo here. He provided the light hearted side of the story and actually had very funny and interesting things to say. It was hard to like Lev. I don't know what to make of him. Surly, hard to like, easily angered (really all the makings of an angsty teenager) although on the other hand, he knew how to survive on the streets which had made him mature faster while Kolya was more of the child of this twosome. However towards the end of the book where Lev actually does grow up both mentally and physically, I started to rather respect him more as his character developed.

    The things I didn't like about this book? well for starters, there were some very graphic and gruesome parts that aren't for the squeamish and some parts even made me squirm uncomfortably. Lev rather annoyed me because he wouldn't stop thinking as how Vika would look naked (and those moments increased towards the end of the book) it got annoying and stagnant. One other criticism, what happened to Kolya was rather predictable in the end. I figured that out at least before halfway of the novel. (Which is why I said it had all the makings of a great foreign movie).

    Despite these faults, I enjoyed reading the book and following these two on their dangerous journey to find eggs. The whole finding eggs bit does make it comical but on the other hand it's mixed so well with the horr

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2009

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    There's something about reading how so many people struggled during World War II, that gives you an appreciation for the smaller things in life. Like eggs! It may not be David Benioff's intention to evoke thought of your own vulnerability, but his story does. And does it well. I found myself feeling for the characters and wondering what it would be like to be Lev. To be thrust out of your comfort zone and into such dire circumstances. We all have a Kolya in our lives. That person we love to hate yet hate to love! Someone who, after all they put you through, can show you their weakness and you do nothing but tell them it'll be alright.
    This story brought me to a place that I haven't been to in a long time and kept me there until it was over.
    A very good read in my opinion. Worth checking out.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 15, 2009

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    Darkly Funny

    This dark comedy makes it mark with its origina, absurd plot: a teenage Jew and a Red Army deserter pair up on a mission to find a dozen eggs in a starving, barbaric city with their lives at stake. This novel has very memorable characters, with events to match. It will make you laugh, only to wipe the smile off your with the horrors on every page. A resonant novel to be read by all. Benioff holds nothing back.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2008

    City of Thieves

    Not just another hotshot American novelist, David Benioff also has his hands dipped in the lucrative trade of Hollywood scriptwriting. Aside from adapting his own novel, The 25th Hour, into a Spike Lee film that starred Edward Norton, he wrote the screenplay for Troy and adapted Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner for the big screen. Perhaps that is why, reading his latest book, you get a sense of watching events unfold in a cinematic manner, with enough details about the protagonists to start casting actors in your mind. In the short prologue, Benioff snappily etches out a writer's relationship with his retired grandfather whom he is interviewing for a magazine article. Just enough hints are dropped here to draw you into the main story with the lure of discovering how this Russian Jew killed two Germans before he turned 18. In 1942, with Germany having begun its infamous siege of Leningrad (now St Petersburg), a 17-year-old Lev finds himself alone in a cut-off city, after his family fled to Vyazma. Caught by Russian authorities for theft, he is unexpectedly spared from punishment and instead given a task to undertake with a 20-year-old army deserter, Kolya - to bring back a dozen eggs for the wedding of a colonel's daughter. Now, in the chaotic, food-scarce city, this order is not easily accomplished by visiting the nearest grocer. Rather, it is a suicide mission that will take the duo into the treacherous countryside beyond enemy lines. The symbolism of theft hovers over the entire book - from the plundering invaders, to cannibalistic urban dwellers preying on children, to (as mentioned in passing conversation between the protagonists) the possibility of Shostakovich plagiarizing from Mahler. City Of Thieves is not only a poetic coming-of-age tale and a surrealistic odyssey filled with unnerving encounters and ironic outcomes. It is ultimately a heart-rending study on our rootedness to home, city and nation.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 25, 2012

    great book.

    great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2012

    By far the greatest story I have ever read that takes place during a war

    I was looking through the list of books I could choose to read for my schools summer reading homework and I am glad I chose City of Thieves. I couldn't put it down, I wanted to know what was going to happen next. Once I got to the end I was sad that I finished the book. I have never felt this way about a book before. I wish the story could have ended a bit differently but I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read the whole story yet. But it was still a good ending.
    P.s. I wish I knew someone like Kolya. His character just made me laugh for pages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2012

    This story shows the dark side of war, not the Hollywood ve

    This story shows the dark side of war, not the Hollywood version. It is an engaging quest novel that (like most quests) takes the reader through some unimaginative horrors. Only in this novel the monsters are human and the innocent don't always win. The I found the descripticharacters are well developed and they seem like people you would know from work or your neighborhood, but they have witnessed the effects or war. Not only must they obtain a dozen eggs to ensure their own freedom, but they must evade the German army and survive the bitter cold during their search. The cold, bleak atmosphere of the Russian countryside matches the futility of the almost impossible quest.
    The story provokes the reader to think what he or she would do to survive. Even Lev and Koylo were not aware of the reasources within them to survive. Alliances are formed quickly as they have so little time to develop relationships, but know they most depend on one another to make it through another day.
    I found the description of the siege of Leninngrad very interesting. It is part of WWII history that is not often brought to light. The ravaging effects of the war are felt throughout the story. The book captures the imagination and is easy to read although the content is difficult and unsettling at times. Even so, there are some bright and heartwarming moments. And those moments are what keeps th characters and the reader going.
    Very, very good read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 29, 2012

    well worth a read

    I found this to be a most interesting read. The characters flow well though out the novel. Some surprises along the way. Having read other works of the time, story was very believable.
    would recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 21, 2012

    One of my absolute favorite books of all time. If you haven't r

    One of my absolute favorite books of all time. If you haven't read it, you are missing out on something special. When I finished the book, I was left with wanting more. I was sad that the book ended, and you know you've read a special book when you feel like that after finishing. Buy the book, read the book and enjoy the book. Nothing else needs to be said.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2012

    Amazing book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2012

    Truly awesome tale

    Not sure what genre to put this in. But, one of all-time best stories I've read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2012

    Nookville moving to nookville all results

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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