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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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  • Bill
  • Kailua Kona, HI, United States
  • 08-03-13

You Will Cherish Your Next Omelet

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.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Paul
  • houston, TX, USA
  • 10-24-09

Stunning Tale. Great Narration.

1st, Ron Perlman (Hellboy)is a real suprise. Excelent reader, great tone and pacing. Is he Russian? Story is very engrossing, the details make the book. Grim tale and plenty of misery, don't listen if you've just gone off your meds, but worth the effort for the real emotional attatchment you build w/ the players.

32 of 33 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Bob
  • Takoma Park, MD, United States
  • 05-15-09

A Story To Savor

This is "plot-driven" fiction at its finest and a superb audiobook. Highly literate, compelling characters, riveting story line set in the vicious German siege of Leningrad in WWII, and laced with wit and humor. The construction is the classic 'quest', a mismatched couple of underdog heroes set off on an impossible task under appalling conditions. We see the story unfold through the eyes of bright, naive Lev but it is his companion Kolya who you fall in love with, a bombastic, pretty boy Cossack with irrepressible charm.
The story gallops along and there is no fluff or filler, though you wish there was because it is over all too soon. There are cinematic touches -it is easy to believe that Benioff is an accomplished screenwriter - but none that bothered me. I appreciated the historical accuracy and insight in a story so lively, entertaining and rich in humanity. I also like the teasing hints that this is a true story passed along from the author's grandfather. And Ron Perlman's narration is very good.
I still hold The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty as the best audiobook I've listened to, and I've been impressed by Bryce Courtenay's stories, but City of Thieves is a very close number two.

31 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


One of the very best audiobooks ever! Shocking vignettes of war-torn Leningrad combined with laugh out loud humor and real excitment. Heart rending characters. Ron Perlman does a wonderful job narrating. This is an easy 5 star. Terrific.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

My Best Yet

I thoroughly enjoyed, "City of Thieves" what a great story. Great charachters, I could picture myself in in St Petersburg under siege fron the Germans. This has been my favorite audiobook so far and inspired me to go see Russia in November. You'll never regret this one!

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Martha
  • East Hampton, NY, United States
  • 11-09-09

Loved it

At first, I wasn't sure I would like this because the narration seemed so flat, but it totally grew on me and fit the book and story perfectly. The story is compelling and memorable; the characters will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended.

21 of 22 people found this review helpful

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  • Caroline
  • Hollywood, SC, United States
  • 01-22-13

Great Story!!!!

I got this book on a sale. I probably wouldn't have gotten it otherwise, based on the description. I sure would have missed out, because this is a fantastic book! Well written, fast paced and just a great story. I can't imagine anyone NOT liking this book. I highly recommend it. Narration was excellent, as well.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

City of Thieves

This book reminds me of The Twelve Chairs. I've listened to it several times and it just gets better and better. Perlman's performance is perfect

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Entertaining WWII view from Leningrad

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.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • J
  • 10-31-09

Fabulous, a real pleasure

great narrator, good solid story never flags. devotees of WWII and cold war thrillers will like the taste; like a good solid modern Russian WWII DVD movie.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful