Two unlikely young men charged with desertion and facing execution in the besieged city of Leningrad are charged with an impossible task: they can have their freedom if they can find a dozen eggs for the wedding cake of a powerful colonel's daughter. The two make an odd couple: one a scrawny Jewish outsider, the other an erudite charmer, and their journey takes them from the war-torn city to the snow-covered countryside. Sound like the basis of a classic movie? That might be because the author, David Benioff, is a successful screenwriter, and City of Thieves is halfway between movie-script and roman-a-clef, between airport blockbuster and serious literature.
It's a difficult balancing act, but it succeeds here in no small part due to Ron Perlman's unforgettable narration. His voice is as full of character as his celebrated face, and his bar-room drawl brings a hard-boiled noir quality to the narration. It's a voice dripping in contraband and cordite, easily navigating the Russian names and injecting a sly, seductive humor into the dialogue that offsets the occasional lapse into sentimentality. It's a fantastic performance that succeeds in tying together the disparate elements of this rich tale.
Perlman also takes great relish in conveying the myriad of tiny details that Benioff weaves into the narrative, and which lend a cinematic quality to the work. Indeed, the author's screenwriting background is evident throughout: there's a tightly-constructed plot that never loses a sense of forward propulsion, even during the quieter moments; there is a skilful interweaving of film-school tropes the buddy movie, the coming-of-age tale, the WWII film. And there's that attention to detail. Although Benioff has clearly done his research, it's the off-beat imagery that brings to life the reality of living in a besieged city: concrete dragon's teeth are arranged to hinder the approach of enemy tanks; leather boots still bloody from the feet of the previous owners; malnourished children's bones break easily.
A slightly superfluous framing narrative alerts us to the novel's more literary aspirations. The art of storytelling is central to this tale, and the narrative brims over with literary references: doomed poets, scabrous novelists, callous propagandists. The picaresque plot recalls A Hero of Our Time, and the main action begins with a German parachutist's corpse drifting down the empty streets, an image halfway between a movie storyboard and Lord of the Flies just one of many evocative set-pieces in this highly entertaining adventure. Dafydd Phillips
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.
©2008 David Benioff; (P)2008 Penguin
I was not that interested in this book after I read the plot summary, but I bought it anywya when friend said she liked it. It sat in my itunes library for a couple of months before I finally listened to it.
However, I was captivated by the story and eventually the narrator (who perfectly fit his character). The novel is really about these two guys, Lev and Kolya; their task to get eggs is only a frame in which to tell their stories. While it is a plot-driven novel, the writing is excellent, and the is story surprisingly funny in places while moving in others. I enjoyed it very much. This is the book that I'm currently recommending to my friends. Also, check out the NY Times' review for a better analysis than mine.
A very captivating story. Not a lot goes well for these characters, and it's hard to imagine surviving the difficult times they experienced, but the story was well written, and the narrator captivating. The characters come alive and the story moves along. It's hard to believe so much happens in a 4-5 day period.
There are several intense and memorable events in the book. It's hard to believe some people can be so evil and inhumane ... the torture inflicted on innocent people, and the dogs carrying bombs are hard to get out of your mind!
Ron has such a deep and commanding voice. He gave a different personality to each character, and it was never difficult to know who was speaking.
Definitely a great book that you hate to put down, and can't wait to get back to.
This book was chosen by a book group member, and I didn't think I would like it. But it was very enlightening. I realized that my generation has never truly endured tough times!
Great story. great characters. really good narration. I rarely give 5 stars but I really enjoyed this book: funny, sad, exciting, quick read.
I wish this book were longer than 8 hours. I finished it in two days. It was incredible. The only audiobook I've listened to that actually made me cry. Which is extremely uncommon for me. You will not be disappointed with story or narration.
I read/listen. Constantly. While the hands are busy, it is an esstenial that the mind be as well.
Benioff, you're amazing. I was sucked in by the 3rd paragraph. Perlman, you made all the pieces work.
The writing and reading was what made this character development novel 'work'. The narrator involves you with the story. The author drags you into situations you don't want to be in, but you love it. I've listen to this twice and every time I find something new. Can't wait for more Benioff.
My biggest problem with the performance of City of Thieves is that the entire story follows two characters, and at multiple dialogues it was almost impossible to understand who was talking since the narration of the voices was so similar.
I love historical fiction and this was a wonderful simple story with World War I and Russia as its backround. The narrator took some getting used to but by the middle I was all in with the accents. It was every bit as good as enthralling as Pillars of the Earth.
Lyrical and unexpected, a slice of life that puts you on the ground during a dark period of Leningrad's history and let's you experience both the pathos and absurdity of survival during war. The charactyers are beautifully drawn and you will feel a wonderful affection for them before the story's end.
I only read this book because of my book club. I am sure glad they chose it. What a wonderful read. I didn't want it to end. It richly describes the horrors of war time for both civilians and military. Everyone should read this book.
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