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City of Thieves | [David Benioff]

City of Thieves

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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's 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.

©2008 David Benioff; (P)2008 Penguin

What Members Say

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4.4 (1438 )
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  •  
    Amazon Customer 01-12-10 Member Since 2009
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    1
    Overall
    "Awesome book. Wonderful narration."

    I have not read a book that has kept me so fully engrossed in the story since Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. The story is compelling, humorous at times, and above all, entertaining. As soon as I finished the book, I told my wife she needed to read it, just so I had someone to talk to about it. Ron Pearlman does an excellent job with the narration. His subtle command of the different accents made the dialog of various characters very easy to follow.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    K. Cunningham Florida 01-09-10
    K. Cunningham Florida 01-09-10 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    33
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    312
    19
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    3
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    Overall
    "wow"

    I found this a very compelling and powerful book, and the narration is excellent. Listening to it was definitely time well spent.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shawn Huntington, Wv, United States 01-07-10
    Shawn Huntington, Wv, United States 01-07-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Suprising"

    This book was a pleasant surprise. Enjoyed all the way thru and Ron Pearlman did a great job with Russian voices.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janachek Port Gamble, WA, United States 01-05-10
    Janachek Port Gamble, WA, United States 01-05-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "City of Thieves"

    The best Audible book I listened to in 2009.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dan Bellevue, WA, United States 01-05-10
    Dan Bellevue, WA, United States 01-05-10 Member Since 2000
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    "Great story"

    A war story, a coming of age story, a buddy story and a romance - City of Thieves is all those things and more. The setting during the first winter of the siege of Leningrad with the horrors of war and the totalitarian Communist state is surreal, but completely convincing. There is certainly profanity but it's part of the world and not gratuitous. The narration is superb - although sometimes it is difficult to catch the switch in characters during a conversation. Overall, a great story, that I am listening to for the second time now.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Russell Sunrise, FL, USA 01-01-10
    Russell Sunrise, FL, USA 01-01-10
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    9
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    Overall
    "excellent historical fiction"

    Well written, well read, and even nice musical interludes.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    DWM Bradenton, FL 08-23-09
    DWM Bradenton, FL 08-23-09 Member Since 2007

    DWMMLM

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Enjoyable characters"

    This is a good book although I'd rate it more 3.5 stars than 4 if I could. Characters are delightful and the story is solid. I found a lot to laugh at here which surprised me a bit as there's not much funny about WWII. Narrator is good, not great, but keeps the booing moving. The book drags a bit but you're so hooked you can't leave.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynne Kansas City, MO, USA 08-12-09
    Lynne Kansas City, MO, USA 08-12-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great story"

    A must listen.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    DMHVetSurveyor Western Wisconsin 01-17-11
    DMHVetSurveyor Western Wisconsin 01-17-11 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Much better than expected"

    I love Ron Pearlman's narration. He was perfect for this book. The storyline was great, you believe that it really could have happened. Well worth the credit or the price, especially when you catch it on sale as I did.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Clody Las Vegas, NV, USA 01-29-10
    Clody Las Vegas, NV, USA 01-29-10 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    "City of Thieves"

    I really enjoyed listening to this audio book. I am a 54 year old woman and I know others have commented on the "sexual content", and yes it was there, however I choose to look at it through the eyes of who the story centers around and those are two very young men.... For me, most of the comments, and observations were funny. The story is poignant, interesting and funny.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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