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 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.
Knowledge is knowing the way. Wisdom is looking for an alternative, more interesting road to get there. Audiobooks are that road.
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.
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.
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.
Fifteen reviews so far and nothing less than a 4-star? I bought the book because of the great reviews, the storyline and time period, and from the perspective of Russia. I was looking forward to the read. After 2 1/2 hours of listening, I had to hit the bail button.
I am continually astonished that writers that have a great storyline and something to say, proceed to poison the story by dragging it through the gutter. What purpose does it serve? Is the story enhanced because profanity is embedded into the whole thing? Oh, maybe a dose of graphic sexual situations will appeal to a broader audience? It is ridiculous! Good stories can stand on their own - period!
I mean, what does this have to do with anything: The two guys are watching the officers daughter ice skate in her fur coat and one of them is picturing her naked so later he can masturbate about her. What does this tell us about the guy? He is horny? Yeah, so what is new. How many ways do you have to tell us about a penis and the multiple slang terms for it? How many times do you have to use the "F" word?
Since books don't have ratings (like movies), I must make decisions on purchasing them from other reviews. Unfortunately, none were offered from this perspective. Ultimately, I am a little torqued that I spent my money to help support this book. Maybe our society is a little desensitized by this, but frankly I am sick of it. From what I have read of this story, if you removed the graphic vulgarity and sexuality, the story would NOT suffer.
I hope that authors would do us all a favor and continue to focus on good stories and keep the unneeded adjectives out... keep something to the reader's imagination. I hope this review would at least make other potential readers aware of what they're purchasing, and give another perspective because so many of us find this type of writing completely unnecessary.
One of the other commentators wrote, "Don't listen to this if you're off your meds." I'm not on meds, but at the end of five hours of listening to this horrifically depressing tale, I would gladly have swallowed a handful of Prozac or whatever the drug of choice is these days.
I finally gave up when I realized that -- contrary to 98% of all other books I've ever listened to -- I was dreading plugging in my ear buds, not looking forward to it. The story is unrelentingly bleak: people and animals are either dead or dying -- dying of hunger, cold, of enemy action, of the loss of hope and humanity. It's made all the worse by the really excellent narration by Ron Perlman -- he makes it all come alive, which is what really got to me. This isn't a "true" story, but the historical situation is true, and hearing Perlman give voice to the pure agony of whatever marginal survival most of these people had, made it more painful yet.
I don't need happy 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm' tales, but this one is too grim for me. Too much pain and sadness to willingly take on. Maybe I'd revise the other commentators advice: Be sure you've taken your meds before you turn this one on.
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