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 am a 65-year-old psychologist, married for 25 years, with two sons who are 25 and 22. I love reviewing the books and the feedback I get.
If you have any Russian blood in you, as I do, this story will reverberate for you. During the war, two waifs find their way through almost incomprehensible famine, destruction, bombing by the ubiquitous Germans and winter's cold, on a mission from a Russian general to find a dozen eggs! One is Jewish, although only half, and the other is pure blond-haired, blue-eyed Cossack. This is the perfect duo. They stumble through enemy lines and eventually the Jewish boy, who is seventeen, finds himself playing chess with a monstrous Nazi Oberleuitenant (forgive my ignorance of German; perhaps it is understandable). The Nazi has murdered so many Russians, in such vile ways, that he must be killed. Along the way our boys pick up Vika, a tiny woman who is the best sniper around. She is so bony that she passes for a young boy, and Lev falls in chaste love with her. The writing is smooth and true. The narrator is an actor who knows how to use his voice. There are a few funny scenes, particularly one in which our boys, looking for eggs, find a scrawny what-they-think-is-a-chicken. They are in for a surprise. You might expect the book to be depressing, as much WWII stuff is for me now, but the author and the narrator make it rise above the Russian suffering. We know the horrendous losses that Russia sustained, but the book is worth reading for its insights into Russia. Only Martin Cruz Smith can do this better, and he is truly in a league with only one member.
Listen to this book and you will never forget it. If you've read other historical fiction based on WWII, I can guarantee that this novel will set a new benchmark. Benioff takes you on a wondrous, heartfelt, painful, funny, thrilling journey with two characters that get under your skin and stay there. Bravo!
Wow, what a great story paired with the perfect narrator. Ron Perlman's monotone delivery allows the story to unfold in the listeners mind while letting the books humor sneak up on you with laugh out loud moments. There are plenty of books on the terrible siege of Lenningrad filled with facts and stats, but none that offer such lovable, relatable characters and insight into the everyday struggles of everyday people. With the right amount of examples of the absurdity of war, it brings you in quick then takes you on a journey in the familiar QUEST format, wrapping up the story with an ending that is both happy and sad. If this is your genre than its a must listen.
The Path Between the Seas to The Great Bridge ~ Kagan's Peloponnesian War to Gaddis' Cold One ~ Mornings on Horseback to a River of Doubt ~ Tom to Huck ~ Lennie to Charley ~ Cadfael to Cross ~ Rhyme to Reacher ~ Blomkvist and Salander to Wallander and Wallander ~ Moving Cheese or Eating Frogs ~ On the Road and Into Thin Air ~ The End of History to A Short History of Everything to ... well ... everything else.
Leningrad, in winter, is brutally cold. Real hunger is a gnawing beast. Relief from either, as welcome as it may be, merely releases the exhaustion that the pain of cold and the ache of hunger had kept at bay.
We know this, not because David Benioff told us, but because we experienced it through the remarkable characters of City of Thieves. Benioff crafts his characters so deftly, and with such originality and empathy, that we are drawn into his story completely. We don't read it; we live it.
City of Thieves is a character-driven tale set in Leningrad at war. We travel with Benioff's protagonists, Lev and Kolya, through this besieged city, on a quest that is both trivial and life-threatening, to find a dozen eggs. Their fear, their hunger, their rage, their hope, their grief ... these aren't emotions we read about. We feel them, and empathize because Benioff has drawn his characters so robustly.
Benioff has done this, in large part, through the little details he has sprinkled so generously throughout the narration. In many ways, the details carry us forward, through a very tight plot, that never really loses intensity. The details create the mental images that endure ... the *giant's" rooms, the city's defenses, the Colonel's petty corruption, the Nazi's instances of unimaginable cruelty, and much, much more.
What might otherwise be a soul-crushing story, is made bearable (and even somehow ennobling) by regular injections humor ~ often war-weary or cynical ~ but real enough and creative enough, that you will find yourself smiling and laughing much more often than you would expect. At least I did.
Even the profanity is wildly imaginative and, far from being gratuitous, is an important, and welcome, part of the story.
City of Thieves is narrated wonderfully by Ron Perlman. Here, the narration really does add to the story. Characters are presented faithfully; their voices ring true and are just what you would expect for them. Pace is flawless; pronunciation equally so (something that is increasingly rare in audiobooks these days)
City of Thieves is more than worth the time and the credit. This one is a keeper. Do yourself a favor.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is fascinating on many levels: as historical fiction depicting the siege of Leningrad, a unique friendship between two people, a type of quest and a journey. The characters are well developed and the reader does a great job of bringing them to life.
There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away Nor any Coursers like a Page Of prancing Poetry – Emily Dickinson
I really liked this book! I think David Benioff did an amazing job of weaving a very dark war story in with humorous episodes and even sexy ones. Mainly he tells a good story, and he made me care even more about the characters with his opening chapter where he seems to tell us that it really IS his grandfather who is the main character. I can't figure out from the reviews I read whether this is true or not, BUT it worked to make me evaluate the plot in a different way. Toward the end, I couldn't stop listening. I would have given it 5 stars except I guess I am a little tired of WWII stories involving Nazi atrocities. Of course, this one was focused on the Russian perspective of WWII, but I'm just not completely fond of war stories. In the last book I listened to, Out Stealing Horses, there was even a WWI/Nazi component, but it was removed from the action in a way that made in not as central to the story as in this book. Anyway, I did really enjoy listening to this book.
This book rivals "The Company" for my all time favorite audiobook. I loved the main characters and the narrator was terrific!
I tremendously enjoyed everything about this book. It is funny and exciting, yet emotionally involving. A coming of age story set in wartime. The narration by Ron Perlman was excellent. I wish the book was longer.
I just could NOT stop listening. Well written and very well narrated. I could almost feel the cold hear the snow crunching and smell the wood fires. I find it absolutely amazing to read that other reveiwers are so offended by the sexually explicit language. The words weren't expletives or there to shock or attract readers Why is it so hard to believe that two young man facing death around any corner would have these thoughts. And, so hard to conceive that a romantic, rather dramatic, slightly foolish young artist and the son of a great poet would speak in such terms. Go ahead and download this book and enjoy every word of it. I truly do not believe you will be dissapointed.
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What could have been just another book about WWII turned out to be a wonderful historical fiction, rich with human drama and relationships. The story is about 2 men, who were thrown together in one prison cell during the siege of Leningrad. Lev, a young Jewish looter who stole a Nazi's knife, and Kolya a Russian deserter. These men were supposed to be shot in the morning but were given an ultimatum to save their own lives. Kolya is funny, courageous, very smart, over sexed and a risk taker. Lev on the other hand is an inexperienced, meek young boy of 17, who has no choice but to follow Kolya on their obscure journey to find a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. In a time when food is practically non-existent, and some have even resorted to cannibalism, these two men must find eggs. Their journey takes them on a perilous adventure, risking their lives every step of the way.
The exuberant personalities of Lev and Kolya were warm and rich, juxtaposed to the cold winter war full of Nazi horrors and despair. The book depicts perfectly the chilling atrocities of war while all the while you are enjoying yourself listening to the antics of Kolya, who in today's world I believe would have been a very successful sales man. The raw language and descriptions, which may offend some, adds authenticity to the story. There is no question this is a far-fetched tale, but what an incredible journey. The story could have benefited from being a bit longer with more historical background. Definitely one of my favorites.
Ron Perlman, the narrator does an excellent job narrating. His deep, slow purposeful voice is perfect for the characters, especially Kolya.
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