Excerpt from City of Thieves by David Benioff, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

City of Thieves

A Novel

by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff X
City of Thieves by David Benioff
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2008, 272 pages
    Apr 2009, 272 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

My grandparents picked me up at the Sarasota airport; I stooped to kiss them and they smiled up at me, always slightly bemused in the presence of their giant American grandson (at six foot two I'm a giant next to them). On the way home we bought pompano at the local fish market; my grandfather grilled it adding nothing but butter, salt, and fresh lemon. Like every dish he made, it seemed incredibly easy to do, took him ten minutes, and tasted better than anything I'd eaten that year in LA. My grandmother doesn't cook; she is famous in our family for her refusal to prepare anything more complicated than a bowl of cereal.

After dinner my grandmother lit a cigarette and my grandfather poured three glasses of homemade black currant vodka. We listened to a choir of cicadas and crickets, stared out at the black Gulf, and slapped away the occasional mosquito.

"I brought a tape recorder with me. I thought maybe we could talk about the war."

I thought I caught my grandmother rolling her eyes as she flicked her ash onto the grass.


" You're forty years old. Now you want to know?"

"I'm thirty-four." I looked at my grandfather and he smiled at me. "What's the matter? You guys were Nazis? You're hiding your Nazi past?"

"No," he said, still smiling. "We weren't Nazis."

"You thought I was forty years old?"

"Thirty-four, forty—" She made her pshh sound, always accompanied by a dismissive wave of the hand, slapping away the stupidity.

"Who cares? Get married. Find a wife."

"You sound like every other grandmother in Florida."

"Ha," she said, a little wounded.

"I want to know what it was like. What's so horrible about that?"

She nodded at my grandfather while pointing the burning tip of her cigarette at me.

"He wants to know what it was like."

"Darling," said my grandfather. Just that, nothing else, but my grandmother nodded and stubbed out her cigarette on the glasstop table.

"You're right," she told me. "You want to write about the war, you should."

She stood, kissed me on the top of my head, kissed my grandfather on the lips, and carried the dishes inside the house. For a few minutes we sat there quietly, listening to the waves breaking. He poured us fresh vodkas, happy to see I'd finished mine.

"You have a girlfriend?"


"The actress?"


"I like her."

"I know you do."

"She could be Russian," he said. "She has the eyes...If you want to talk about Leningrad, we talk about Leningrad."

"I don't want to talk. I want you to talk."

"So, OK, I'll talk. Tomorrow?"

He kept his word. For the next week we sat together every day on the concrete deck and I recorded his stories. A few hours in the morning, breaking for lunch, then again in the afternoon—my grandfather, a man who hated to speak more than two consecutive sentences in mixed company (meaning in the company of anyone other than his wife), filled minicassette after minicassette with his words. Too many words for one book—truth might be stranger than fiction, but it needs a better editor. For the first time in my life I heard my grandfather curse and speak openly about sex. He talked about his childhood, about the war, about coming to America. But mostly he talked about one week in 1942, the first week of the year, the week he met my grandmother, made his best friend, and killed two Germans.

When he was finished telling his stories, I questioned him about various details—names, locations, weather conditions on certain days. He tolerated this for a while, but eventually he leaned forward and pressed the Stop button on the tape recorder.

"It was a long time ago," he said. "I don't remember what I was wearing. I don't remember if the sun came out."

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from City of Thieves. Copyright © David Benioff, 2008.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    by Atia Abawi

    When you're a refugee, everyone has lost, at least for the time being... And the journey ...

  • Book Jacket: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...
  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Tara Westover had the kind of upbringing most of us can only imagine. She was the youngest of seven ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano

    A charming, bighearted novel starring Auntie Poldi, Sicily's newest amateur sleuth.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Sorry, we do not currently have an active wordplay!

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.