Summary and book reviews of City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves

A Novel

By David Benioff

City of Thieves
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  • Hardcover: May 2008,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2009,
    272 pages.

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About this Book

Book Summary

A writer visits his retired grandparents in Florida to document their experience during the infamous siege of Leningrad. His grandmother won't talk about it, but his grandfather reluctantly consents. The result is the captivating odyssey of two young men trying to survive against desperate odds.

Lev Beniov considers himself “built for deprivation.” He's small, smart, and insecure, a Jewish virgin too young for the army, who spends his nights working as a volunteer firefighter with friends from his building. When a dead German paratrooper lands in his street, Lev is caught looting the body and dragged to jail, fearing for his life. He shares his cell with the charismatic and grandiose Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested on desertion charges. Instead of the standard bullet in the back of the head, 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 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 to find the impossible. A search that takes them through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and the devastated surrounding countryside creates an unlikely bond between this earnest, lust-filled teenager and an endearing lothario with the gifts of a conman. Set within the monumental events of history, City of Thieves is an intimate coming-of-age tale with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

Excerpt
City of Thieves

My grandfather, the knife fighter, killed two Germans before he was eighteen. I don't remember anyone telling me—it was something I always seemed to know, the way I knew the Yankees wore pinstripes for home games and gray for the road. But I wasn't born with the knowledge. Who told me? Not my father, who never shared secrets, or my mother, who shied away from mentioning the unpleasant, all things bloody, cancerous, or deformed. Not my grandmother, who knew every folktale from the old country—most of them gruesome; children devoured by wolves and beheaded by witches—but never spoke about the war in my hearing. And certainly not my grandfather himself, the smiling watchman of my earliest memories, the quiet, black-eyed, slender man who held my hand as we crossed the avenues, who sat on a park bench reading his Russian newspaper while I chased pigeons and harassed sugar ants with broken twigs.

I grew up two blocks from my grandparents and saw ...

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About This Book

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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

City of Thieves reads like a novelized "buddy movie" (think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Thelma and Louise). Although engaging, City of Thieves does not contain great emotional depths. Horrific events are reported - the reader observes, but does not relate. In this, especially, Benioff's background as a screenwriter is evident. Movies are primarily visual affairs, and Benioff's writing focuses on what is seen, not what is felt. Some writers manage to convey everything about an experience down to the smells of a place; Benioff's descriptions are more or less limited to what's observable ....In spite of its flaws, City of Thieves is one of the most entertaining novels I have read in recent months. Its fast pace and believable characters will appeal to a wide range of readers, and it's an ideal choice for those looking for a high-quality page-turner.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews
Time Out London

City of Thieves is essentially a coming-of-age quest – of the highest order. Benioff has down pat the art of writing the kind of unadorned, direct prose that buoys a story along. You almost forget you are reading City of Thieves and concentrate instead on romping through Leningrad, the tundra and enemy lines on a Boys' Own adventure.

The Spectator - Jane Ridley

Benioff’s novel is under-researched and lacking in psychological insight. It’s a fast-moving adventure story which just happens to be set in the historical theme park of the siege of Leningrad. It had me gripped, and it will make an OK movie.

Kirkus Reviews

This gut-churning thriller will sweep you along and, with any luck, propel Benioff into bestseller land.

Library Journal

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...deserves a bright spotlight.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [T]ense adventure, a bittersweet coming-of-age and an oddly touching buddy narrative.

Los Angeles Times - Donna Rifkind

What does distract ruinously from the power of "City of Thieves" is the barrier between its characters' emotions and the reader's .... without our ability to be moved by his predicament, this well-crafted tale about the endless opportunities for suffering weakens into a harmless entertainment.

San Francisco Chronicle - Jesse Berrett

With a skeptical eye but enormous tenderness, novelist and screenwriter David Benioff dreams up his grandfather's wartime exploits in blockaded Leningrad ..... Many of the motifs and images here seem recycled from previous war novels and movies, but Benioff's palpable love for his grandfather animates the book and lends it heart, and the dialogue is as funny and sharp as he wants it to be.

Entertainment Weekly - Jennifer Reese

By listening carefully — and making the rest up — Benioff has produced a funny, sad, and thrilling novel. A-

The Washington Post - Thomas Meaney

City of Thieves is a coming-of-age story brilliantly amplified by its war-torn backdrop…a rough-and-tumble tale that clenches humor, savagery and pathos squarely together on the same page.

New York Times - Boris Fishman

Benioff’s opening chapter, "true" or not, is a gentle reminder that fiction is often nonfiction warped by artifice, and that nonfiction is unavoidably a reinvention of what actually happened. In exposing these seams — God bless his editor for leaving in that chapter — Benioff reminds us what a beautifully ambiguous world we live in.

Reader Reviews
KCS

City of Thieves
City of Thieves by David Benioff I am so thankful for this banana I am eating currently and this book shall make you feel the same. Following an unlikely duo of a poet looter and a handsome deserter through a tale of war in the city of Leningrad,...   Read More

TessP.

City of Thieves
This book by David Benioff got me from the first page and left me wanting more when it was over. I loved this book on so many levels and not many books effect me this way. It was funny, tragic, thrilling, magical. It took me to a place I had never...   Read More

Noah Hollin

AMAZING
A great and exciting read for anyone trying to find a good book.

Scott Waddell

City of Thieves
What can I say...I am somewhat lethargic when it comes to reading. I usually start a book and read for a few days and then my attention is turned elsewhere and I don,t pick it up again for a month....to be honest sometimes books take me months to ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Siege of Leningrad (September 1941 - January 1944) was one of the longest and most destructive in modern history - spanning 900 days and four Russian winters. Though the actual civilian death toll can never be known it is estimated that well over 600,000 of the approximate 3 million population died, with some estimating the death toll as high as 1.5 million.  About 80% died of starvation.

When the siege began, the city had approximately 30 days' worth of food on-hand. Rationing began almost immediately, but Leningrad's citizens weren't informed how low supplies truly were, presumably to keep them from panicking. Restaurants continued operating as ...

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