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Editorial 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

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What a great find...Thks 2 Audible Readers/reviews

This is a novel I would have never found or read if not for the superb reviews on Audible. All I can add is: BELIEVE THE HYPE. A wonderful tale of young Russians in WWII as told by the grandson of immigrants.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Benioff rocks this story!

Would you consider the audio edition of City of Thieves to be better than the print version?

I found the audio format preferable to print in that I would not know how to pronounce various Russian words and cities, etc.

Have you listened to any of Ron Perlman’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Loved the Russian accents! Not overdone and only occasional for emphasis in certain passages. Nice interpretation, Ron.

Any additional comments?

After noting that Benioff wrote or co-wrote many of the excellent screenplays for Game of Thrones, I became interested in his work. This novel is a gripping account of grandfather's experiences as a young Russian man in the first winter of WWII when Nazi Germany attacked Communist Russia. The writing is extraordinary and compelling. I feel present in the story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Thomas
  • Orem, UT, United States
  • 01-31-13

Reader beware of graphic nature of this book

What was most disappointing about David Benioff’s story?

Potential readers should be aware of the graphic nature of this story. I get it, that its Leningrad, it was a brutal horrific period. People starving, murdered, cannabalized. However, I am of the opinion that great literature does not need such incessant graphic sexual descriptions or dialogue. Brutality and sexual practices need not overshadow the main purpose of the narrative.....and if, perhaps, it becomes the main purpose it is all the more disappointing.

What three words best describe Ron Perlman’s performance?

Very compelling performance

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Harvey
  • Seattle, WA, United States
  • 10-29-12

Great writing and story - boring narration

If you could sum up City of Thieves in three words, what would they be?

Real heartfelt passion.

What was one of the most memorable moments of City of Thieves?

the introduction. i had to give up after chapter 3. i'll buy the book

What didn’t you like about Ron Perlman’s performance?

boring, mono-tone, always aware he is reading.

If you could take any character from City of Thieves out to dinner, who would it be and why?

Kolya. Reminds me of Beniof

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Pick this one.

I was not that interested in this book after I read the plot summary, but I bought it anywya when friend said she liked it. It sat in my itunes library for a couple of months before I finally listened to it.

However, I was captivated by the story and eventually the narrator (who perfectly fit his character). The novel is really about these two guys, Lev and Kolya; their task to get eggs is only a frame in which to tell their stories. While it is a plot-driven novel, the writing is excellent, and the is story surprisingly funny in places while moving in others. I enjoyed it very much. This is the book that I'm currently recommending to my friends. Also, check out the NY Times' review for a better analysis than mine.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Sybel
  • MINNETONKA, MN, United States
  • 02-06-12

A Never Ending Adventure

If you could sum up City of Thieves in three words, what would they be?

Always a surprise

What does Ron Perlman bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Accents and tone of voice, he was part of the story.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, too much story at one time...

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Donna
  • JACKSON, MS, United States
  • 01-25-12

good story

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

The story is told with sensitivity and humor (at times). As all war stories, there is some meaness and horor. I loved the naration. Good story to read in winter--very cold an snowy.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Disappointing

Lots of glowing reviews - but to me, a very difficult unrewarding read. I'd expected, based on the synopsis that I'd read, that this would be about a boy forced to use his wits to round up a dozen eggs - and save his life. This is the back story, but what he and his companion had to endure to accomplish this is utterly depressing and difficult to wade through. The period of time involved is only several days, but the main characters must endure hunger, forced by the German Siege of Leningrad, the brutal cold of the Russian winter and dodging, or sometimes failing to, the Nazi guns. I'd expected something a bit more uplifting, along the lines of the movie, Life is Beautiful. Granted, this was a horrendous time in history and many people suffered greatly, but ultimately, I felt that this telling lacked humanity.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Reed
  • Hopkins, MN, United States
  • 12-18-11

Wonderful Adventure

Any additional comments?

I had mixed feelings about the narrator which matched his style. Great when presenting characters, incredibly flat when narrating the story. Someone who could have balanced the two more evenly would have been a better choice.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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This is in my top three listens this year

This was a wonderful listen. If Ron Perlman wanted to read every book I buy from now on to me, I'd be alright with that. His performance was so charismatic and engaging without in any way intruding into my consciousness. He brought the book to life.

The book itself is wonderful. It's hard to believe that it's only a half a century and an Ocean that separates us from Leningrad, because in some ways it could be a fantasy novel. But it also feel completely probable and close, like if everything went wrong this could be anywhere on a bad day.

The characters are all flawed, and still you fall in love with all of them.

It's a smart and thoughtful book, at times brutal and always thoughtful and smart.The premise seems improbable, but the events unfold, going seamlessly from one point to the next and gathering momentum so that while the story is large, it never gets away from Benioff and you can believe without a willful suspension of disbelief.

And finally, this book is exciting. I tend to read literary fiction, and I have loved books in which nothing happens. This is not a book where nothing happens, and will appeal to both those readers who need strong characters to become engaged, and to those who want their books plot driven because they come for the story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful