City of Thieves: A Novel

By David Benioff
Publisher:Plume, (3/31/2009)

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.50 out of 5 (2 Clubie's ratings)

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From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour, 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, 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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SkinnyLinny's thoughts on "City of Thieves: A Novel"
updated on:9/10/2013

One of my modern favorites!


Barbara's thoughts on "City of Thieves: A Novel"
updated on:5/14/2013

We enjoyed this book.  It took the serious subject of war in Russia during WWII and found a way to portray the atrocities with some humorous moments.  It also was a story of the relationship between 2 young men.  It was an enjoyable read.

Very Unleashable

"City of Thieves: A Novel"
By David Benioff

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.50 out of 5 (2 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

  • 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?

  • Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
    Have a good question? If your a clubie add one now.
    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 the Hardcover edition. 

    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 the Hardcover edition. 

    From Bookmarks Magazine
    Readers have lately been exposed to a great deal of postmodern historical fiction, stories whose focus on the past merely reveals the astigmatism of an unreliable narrator. Perhaps tired of squinting at history, most reviewers found David Benioff’s novel refreshingly clear. With a framing device that serves to warn the reader that the author’s life is far removed from that of a Russian partisan, the narrative of City of Thieves lacks much of the anxiety over the inaccessibility of the past that has plagued recent novels of the genre. Critics also felt that Benioff avoids another form of pretentiousness, the heavy-handed tone that characterizes many historical novels (particularly those about war). However, this deftness makes the plot of the novel move along far too easily; one skeptical critic compared it to a Hollywood “buddy story.” However, most reviewers seemed eager for Benioff to write the script.
    Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

    From Booklist
    In 1941, the Germans circled Leningrad, starving its remaining citizens. His mother and sister evacuated, 17-year-old Lev Beniov remained, heeding the call for every able-bodied man to come to the defense of his country. After being caught out after curfew, Lev is thrown in the Crosses, the notorious prison, and while waiting for what he assumes will be an inglorious end, a summary execution at dawn, he is joined by the gregarious, indefatigable, and literature-spouting soldier, Kolya, imprisoned for desertion. When their lives are spared, they are assigned the impossible task of acquiring a dozen eggs for the wedding of a colonel’s daughter, a task that takes them into the company of cannibals and Einsatzgruppen, dreaded Nazi death squads. A high-spirited adventure, Benioff’s second novel (following the 2001 debut, The 25th Hour), ostensibly an account of the author’s grandfather—a quiet immigrant who sold his real-estate business and retired to Florida with his wife—takes more than a little poetic license. When Benioff tells his grandfather that a few things don’t make sense in the narrative, his reply: “You’re a writer. Make it up.” --Ben Segedin --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

    “This spellbinding story perfectly blends tragedy and comedy.” 
    USA Today

    “Benioff has produced a funny, sad, and thrilling novel.” 
    Entertainment Weekly

    “Benioff blends humor and horror expertly.” 
    San Francisco Chronicle

    “A deft storyteller, Benioff writes about starvation, cannibalism, and Nazi atrocities with poise and cinematic flair. If Thieves were a movie, it would start out like Schindler’s List and end up like Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

    “The novel tells a refreshingly traditional tale, driven by an often ingenious plot…. He shifts tone with perfect control—no recent novel I’ve read travels so quickly and surely between registers, from humor to devastation….”
    New York Times Book Review

    City of Thieves is a coming-of-age story brilliantly amplified by its worn-torn backdrop. 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.”
    Washington Post

    City of Thieves is flat-out great. Benioff’s screen writing chops are in full force here—the plot careens along with cinematic verve—but that’s expected. The surprise is Benioff’s understated wisdom and tenderness.”
    Men’s Journal 
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    David Benioff is an author and screenwriter. He adapted his first novel, The 25th Hour, into the feature film directed by Spike Lee. He also adapted the bestseller The Kite Runner and wrote the screenplay for Wolverine, in theatres Fall 2008. Stories from his critically acclaimed collection When the Nines Roll Over appeared in Best New American Voices and The Best Nonrequired American Reading.

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