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 was a different side to the many stories told of WWII.
The very end of the story was surprising but so touching.
Each character stood alone in the story and were easily identifiable.
Yes, I would often linger at whatever I was doing so I could continue to listen.
A story of coming of age, the horrors of war, and also of love. Written to be told, and very well told by Perlman. His voices and inflections capture the personalities as Benioff must have intended. One of the best books I've read and the best audiobooks I've listened to yet.
I couldn't stop listening to this book - it was one of my most enjoyable "listens" all year.
The plot was interesting and full of unexpected moments; it held me captive throughout the book. The characters fleshed out and became likable - I'm still laughing at some of their dialogue. And the narrator was very good - a semi-gruff voice perfectly suited to a war-time tale.
I had never heard of the book, but I'm glad it was on Audible's list of 60 five-star books from 2009. Very good book.
Leningrad is under siege and it's people suffer untold hardship and death. There is a massive food shortage, and most women and children and the elderly have escaped. Two unlikely comrades meet in the city's worst jail awaiting execution. One is a Jewish teenager who is the son of a semi-famous poet. He is charged with looting because he took Schnapps and a knife off of the body of a dead German paratrooper who happened to land in the street in front of the apartment building he was guarding. The other is the oversexed son of a Cossack who left his Red Army regiment to seek his carnal pleasure only to be picked up as a deserter. Awaiting certain death, they are approached by the highest Colonel who will spare their lives if they can do one thing. The Colonel's daughter is getting married in one week, and he needs one dozen eggs for the wedding cake. If they cannot provide the eggs, they will be executed. They take off and the adventure unfolds as they experience one horrendous war story after another. They hate each other in the beginning and create a bond as the story ends in incredible ironies. The descriptive writing is compelling and immerses the reader(listener) into the character's cold, dark, funny and horrible experience. I couldn't wait to get more. Ron Perlman dose a very fine job telling the story, and the short musical interludes at the end of each chapter drive up the production value.
This was a wonderful narrative -- the characters were so likeable and the story very sad, poignant and full of futility. Well worth a listen.
Interesting insights into WWII Russia, with wonderful characters. Narration excellent.
I was very torn reviewing this book. I thought the narration was very un-even. His dialogue narration was far better than is 'story-telling' narration. That being said, I found his narration extremely monotonal. I also found the sexual language and sexual/romantic storyline to be very primal and base and not romantic or loving at all. I know that I am certainly out-numbered on this issue: I guess the base and sexually implicit language might have been pertinent to the story, but I mostly found it to be offensive and vile. It is a well written story, but not worth the accolades, I've certainly read & listened to far better WWII novels
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