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
This book was a pleasant surprise. Enjoyed all the way thru and Ron Pearlman did a great job with Russian voices.
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.
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.
Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
Ron Perlman was better than I expected, but I would not rate him better than average as a narrator. He really does the voices rather well, though. I would not read another David Benioff book. This is a coming of age story told from the viewpoint of a 17 year old boy so no big shock that much of his thinking is focused on sex. However, I think some of this was gratuitously vulgar and detracted from the story. When the author focused on the historical fiction part of the book, it was quite good, but the coming of age sections were crass with no new insights.
I got the audiobook on sale and it was OK for the price - there are better books to listen to than this so I don't really recommend it.
The picture of WWII Russia was quite interesting and often absorbing, but some of the crude and vulgar dialog was distracting and just not necessary.
The basic story line was ridiculous consisting of a bunch of hyperbolic, melodramatic, predictably written ridiculous scenes strung together and punctuated by unnecessarily crude comments.
Really? Why would I?
Perhaps, it's not his fault Benioff wrote a dumb book.
It's not worth my time...
The facts about Lenningrad seem very far fetched.
The ending is a bit predictable, but is still the best part of the book.
No idea who would have done a better job, but Ron Perlman really spoiled the book for me. The problem is the narrator's repetitive, choppy rendition that rolls through almost every phrase and sentence at the same pace or if the pace of the writing itself is the same throughout. It often sounds like a Hemmingway imitation contest.
There are better books to listen to.
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.
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