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City of Thieves

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  47,225 ratings  ·  5,979 reviews
A writer visits his retired grandparents 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...more
Paperback, 310 pages
Published March 5th 2009 by New English Library (first published January 1st 2006)
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Doug Bradshaw
Jun 22, 2008 Doug Bradshaw rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Especially men, but women will like it too.
Recommended to Doug by: NY Times, EW
I have read some good fiction lately, but this one is special like "Catcher in the Rye" or "The Curious Incident" or maybe "The Kite Runner". Instead of telling the story, I will make observations as to why I loved it:

1. Many historical fiction novels are written from the perspective of the thinking of the time. Although it is interesting to observe how people think people thought in the past, it can be a little too un-modern and sometimes boring, like reading "Moby Dick" or some other great, b...more
“I was built for deprivation.”

“For Mother Russia!” I toast. Gulp. Slam down my vodka. Twenty million Russians sacrificed their lives in World War II, and I do not know the name of a single one of them. I can do nothing but gawk at and salute such heroism and endurance. David Benioff gives us a story about friendship and coming of age in a time of deprivation.

Many of us are interested in dystopias, but City of Thieves is about a real one—the Siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during World War I...more
in the aftermath of my tryst with this beautiful, intelligent novel, I was hobbled by lancinating pain stemming from a burning, itching question repeatedly sounding off in my head…why didn’t I love this book MORE?


I love historical fiction, especially tales set in WW the Sequel, and Benioff’s crisp, effortless prose is smart and pleasurable without ever become overly clever or self-indulgent. The plot device of surreal "forced" shopping expedition to track down a dozen eggs against the backdr...more
Jeffrey Keeten
”How could you fear anything more than death?
Everything else offered moments of escape: a paralyzed man could still read Dickens; a man in the grips of dementia might have flashes of the most absurd beauty.”

Lev Beniov wants to live. He may not be clear about anything else, but he knows that to be true. Life becomes more precious when being anywhere, not just in the wrong place, but just existing in space, can turn into a death trap at any moment. When his mother and sister fled the city he decid...more
You know how annoying it is when a book’s ending is so unrealistic that you say to yourself in disgust, “This would never play out like this in real life!”? It’s happened more than once, right? But a funny thing sometimes happens on the way to the forum. Sometimes your peevishness gets assassinated. Sometimes you’re so damned entertained by a book that you act like a sailor on leave and say, “Ah, what the hell!” Sometimes you’re so amused by the characters that you see that suspension bridge of...more
Growing up in Poland you couldn't escape but be exposed to Polish war movies and dramas. The war defined this country and its people, with the country being completely destroyed and around 5,6 million people dead; because the Western powers trusted Stalin the country borders also changed, with parts of eastern Poland being ceded to contemporary Ukraine and Lithuania. But the rotten top of the cake came when the country fell under the influence of the USSR, and disappeared behind the Iron Curtain...more
It’s all about the quest.

When I read books, I like to do a little research about the author, time period, the book itself, etc. I was interested to learn that the creator of the video game, The Last of Us, drew inspiration in part from this book.

The Last of Us is a game my son keeps begging me to play. It takes place in the near future, has nothing to do with World War II era Leningrad, and from what I’ve watched bears no resemblance to the book.

It’s all about the quest.

In the book, the quest is...more
Opening Line:"My grandfather, the knife fighter, killed two Germans before he was eighteen."

I came away from this feeling, very cold, very hungry and with an inexplicable need to make sure my pantry was full. CITY OF THIEVES is a fantastic story; set in 1942 during the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad. It’s a coming of age story filled with adventure, suspense, friendship, romance and tragedy all washed down with (from what I understand) a historically accurate picture of Leningrad during the bl...more
A terrific book that proves you don't have to write 700 or 800 pages to have real depth. I'm fascinated by how Benioff managed to describe the characters enduring terrible hardship and the worst of one of the most brutal battles in history, but the book doesn't read as grim or overly depressing. That's not to say that there isn't real drama, horror and sadness, but the natural humor of characters keep it from being just another book about the horrors of war.
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Apr 29, 2014 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Cultural: Russia Circa WW2 - good buddy story
Recommended to Florence (Lefty) by: Doug Bradshaw
The 1st third of this book I was forcing myself to keep reading, it’s like this coming of age story on steroids. While I liked Lev immediately I couldn’t relate to Kolya; rather than comic relief I thought his humour just crass, but I kept reading and I was hooked. I think it was the bootless prisoner trudging through the snow with feet turned into blocks of ice when I finally got it…. It’s a horrendous story of unimaginable hardship and the author throws you right in the thick of it. Once I l...more

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Set in the ice cold winter of January 1942 during the brutal Nazi Siege of Leningrad, also known as The Leningrad Blockade and The 900 Day Siege.

Citizens of Leningrad dig for water from a broken main during the winter of 1942

Background on The Siege: Instead of attacking and occupying Leningrad, the Nazis surrounded the city and cut it off from the rest of Russia, leaving the most minimal food and energy supplies for the population trapped inside to live on. The p...more
Nov 14, 2009 Rose rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rose by: NYTimes best seller list
This book has it all; a perilous quest, a “buddy story”, history, romance, comedy and drama. I looked at it as an anti-war novel. The beauty of youth innocence set against the brutal and gruesome truths about the cost of war.

A reviewer on amazon put it best with this:
“As Americans, we often have a very one-dimensional view of World War II: "we" took out the Nazis and the Japanese. That the Soviet Union -- soon our enemy for the next forty-plus years -- was our ally, and probably had more to do...more
Jun 21, 2008 Cynthia rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in literary fiction, historical fiction, or World War II.
I literally could not put this book down. I started it one night and stayed up much too late to finish it the next. (My poor husband kept asking me to turn off the light, and I kept telling him, "One more page, one more page.") I had almost no knowledge of this period of history, but Benioff brings it to life in a way that's compelling and moving. I never knew what was going to happen next. The characters are unique and richly drawn, full of dark humor and life. In other words, though the book's...more
A strangely terrible book. I read it from cover to cover, skipping only a few passages, which I almost never do in a book this bad. And there's nothing, on the surface, that is really bad. The plot is compelling, the characters pretty interesting when they're not merely comic book sketches, the atmosphere in a lot of scenes seems just right. The only problem was that I didn't believe a single word of it. People in wartime, in life-or-death situations, simply don't think or feel this way. I could...more
Bette BookAddict
Apr 29, 2014 Bette BookAddict rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bette BookAddict by: Angela's review
Being a woman, I am not often privy to what goes on inside a young guy's mind - rather, I have to rely on what he tells me. But this novel took me inside a young Russian's mind in Leningrad early 1940s.

I cannot offer my own paltry review when faced with heavyweights like this one; easily one of the best reviews for this novel:

My own advice is I Highly Recommend this superb fiction. 5★
"There are cannibals in every building," said the driver. "Welcome to Leningrad. Now step aside."
If there is a more miserable place in the 20th century than winter 1942 Leningrad apart from Nazi death camps, I am unaware of it. Cut off from the outside world and bombarded by the Germans the citizens of Leningrad (or Piter as the natives call it, short for the city's old name, St. Petersburg) must also endure the world famous Russian winter.
There were two theories on the fat versus the thin. S
War is never nice. But some wars seem worse than others. The Siege of Leningrad was one of them. The conditions in the city itself were deplorable. The cold, the hunger, and the desperation of the people marked the attributes of this particular time in history.

The impact of the siege is unveiled as Lev & Kolya go in search of a dozen eggs on orders of the general. We take so much for granted, that it's difficult to conceive that this task is almost impossible and life threatening.

I found t...more
Aug 11, 2008 Edan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Edan by: Patrick Brown
Taking this to Kauai...

...This book is incredibly fun to read--at every turn there was something to discover (Will they be killed? What's in that cabin?), and the characters were well-drawn and interesting.

I was going to give this book 4 stars, because it's pleasantly readable, and the prose itself is really nice, but something about it felt, in the end, not real. Maybe a little antiseptic? Not sure--Patrick said it feels like an old movie about the siege of Leningrad, rather than a real story...more
I was so afraid this book would be unbearably grim. I mean, come on, it's the siege of Leningrad, everyone's starving to death, and it's only 1941--the war will just go on and on. Nazis. Russian winter. Are there any OTHER ingredients for grimness in a book.

But this book strikes the perfect balance of brutality and joy. It's all about Kolya, of course, one of those over-the-top characters who is always doing something nonsensical that works out just fine. I won't say he carries the book, because...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Good story. Kind of clever to have a quest for a dozen eggs lead them on their journey of friendship and danger. The most interesting thing about the book for me was learning about the Siege of Leningrad, which lasted three years. Three years of starvation with no food to be had at any price; corpses everywhere, just left to rot; and brutal cold, with every bit of wood, including the trees, already hacked up and used for heating.

Those who are offended by crassness will probably want to avoid th...more
Oct 12, 2014 Tania rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tania by: sonja
...contrary to popular belief, the experience of terror does not make you braver. Perhaps, though, it is easier to hide your fear when you're afraid all the time.

3.5 stars. A very sweet, yet harsh coming of age story. I loved all three the main characters, especially Vika - so different than most of the teenage female protagonist we read about these days. The book was also a reminder that humans will always keep on with the business of living no matter what the situation is - so if you're a teen...more
I finished it two minutes ago. WOW!!! Treat yourself to this book. There is no way any reader could not love this book. It is for the girls and it's for the guys. It is riveting. It is humorous. It is philosophical. It is a coming of age story. It is about the reality of war and specifically about the Siege of Leningrad. You will never forget the hunger, the cold and the misery of the Siege of Leningrad! Historical fiction at its best, and it shows why contemporary fiction should be valued just...more
Stephan van der Linde
Another Brilliant story about friendship during wartime. WO II.

This story is about two total different boys, who are forced to find a dozen eggs for a colonel daughter's wedding in 5 days.

An impossible mission where there's barely food in the Ruins of assaulted Russia. The boys, the confident good looking Kolya and the insecure, smaller jew Lev encounter all kinds of danger, betrayal and despair.

This book blew me away. I Loved Benioff's debut 25th Hour, but this is just as good.
Even though i...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
A story that combines excellent characterization and a suspenseful plot. Not too many characters in this one, which gave the author the ability to nearly fully develop the two main characters. The author was able to capture the terror of war, yet was able to offset this terror with some humor. The main characters are young men, Kolya and Lev. I have seen this described as a coming of age story. I don't know what that is - the path to maturity being neither straight nor common. It is a story of f...more
I was really looking forward to this book being that it had great reviews and I am really interested in the Siege of Leningrad. Unfortunately for me it was just too crude and I stopped reading about 100 pages in. (I did want to know how everything turned out so I read the ending in order have a little resolution.) It was a fast, entertaining read with a lot of dark humor- those parts I did enjoy.

The other issue I had with it is that I had a hard time over looking the fact that he had his two ma...more
Lisa Vegan
Jul 13, 2011 Lisa Vegan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all who enjoy historical fiction; anyone interested in the Siege of Leningrad & WWII
Recommended to Lisa by: K
This story and its characters hooked me right from the start. Although I took a few days to read/savor it, it’s the kind of book that I found hard to put down, and I could have easily read it in a day.

I vacillated between giving it 4 or 5 stars. Most of the way through it was a 5 star book for me. I really enjoyed the writing style, the memorable characters, the account of the circumstances, and the amazing descriptions. But, I didn’t like some of what happened toward the end, though I did under...more
A metà strada tra favola e realtà, David Benioff colloca la storia di due ragazzi sullo sfondo del terribile assedio di Leningrado. Un romanzo di formazione, certo, ma anche una narrazione che potrebbe appartenere alla miglior tradizione “picaresca”. Infatti, nel bel mezzo di una tragedia che ha avuto proporzioni bibliche (l’assedio durò dall'8 settembre 1941 al 18 gennaio 1944), i protagonisti, Lev e Kolja, cercano dodici uova, affinché sia possibile confezionare una torta nuziale come di deve....more

False starts

(1) He uses the ‘as if’ simile all the time. What is the point of this odious practice and from where did it spring? Is it because writers think we are idiots or because they don’t have the skill to write it in another way? This one is p. 2 of the story proper and really gave me the pip:

That time of year the sun lingers in the sky for only six hours, scurrying from hoizon to horizon as if spooked.

That piece of smartarsery almost had me put the book on the ‘moving along right now she...more
This was a good adventure story, smoothly told. He almost lost me with the framing device at the beginning, but I understood at the end why he wanted it. And really, that's just a personal taste--I like to jump right in.
There is no great search for profound truths here, yet the truths that are people occur anyway in the course of Lev and Kolya's life and death hunt for a dozen eggs during the siege of Leningrad. Neither is there a search for dazzling sentences that pop off the page. Benioff jus...more
This is a gripping read. I had trouble putting it down.

The story is set in Russia during WWII after the Nazi's have overtaken Leningrad. When Lev Beniov is arrested for looting, he is thrown in jail with an alleged Russian army deserter named Kolya. Rather than being executed the next morning as Lev is expecting, they are instead ordered to fulfill a surprising and ridiculous mission. In the midst of chaos, war, brutality, death and starvation, they must find a dozen eggs for a colonel to use f...more
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Why You Enjoy Reading War Literature? 12 137 Oct 13, 2014 02:59PM  
A Million More Pages: City of Thieves 9 23 Aug 31, 2014 11:09PM  
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David Benioff worked as a nightclub bouncer in San Francisco, a radio DJ in Wyoming and an English teacher/wrestling coach in Brooklyn before selling his first novel, The 25th Hour, in 2000.

He later wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee’s adaptation of Hour starring Edward Norton and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. In 2005, Viking Press published Benioff’s collection of short stories, When the Nines Roll Ov...more
More about David Benioff...
The 25th Hour The Kite Runner: A Portrait of the Marc Forster Film When the Nines Roll Over and Other Stories City of Thieves: A Novel 25th Hour [screenplay]

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“I've always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.” 781 likes
“Talent must be a fanatical mistress. She's beautiful; when you're with her, people watch you, they notice. But she bangs on your door at odd hours, and she disappears for long stretches, and she has no patience for the rest of your existence; your wife, your children, your friends. She is the most thrilling evening of your week, but some day she will leave you for good. One night, after she's been gone for years, you will see her on the arm of a younger man, and she will pretend not to recognize you.” 158 likes
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