Doug Bradshaw's Reviews > City of Thieves

City of Thieves by David Benioff
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's review
Jun 22, 2008

it was amazing
Recommended to Doug by: NY Times, EW
Recommended for: Especially men, but women will like it too.
Read in June, 2008

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, but somewhat over the top book. Here, we are set back in time by the grandson who is just like us, telling the story his grandfather tells him, but with language and interpretations that are how we think about things today. Instead of finding this tool to be unrealistic and too Hollywood modern, I found just the opposite. I felt like I really was back in time and I related to the characters like they were my best friends and buddies. I loved this approach to history telling.

2. The primary relationship in the book is between a shy, 17 year old Jewish boy who is intelligent, clever, educated and a great story teller. There is a running dialogue in his head describing his sometimes ridiculous and unimportant thoughts and observations as life threatening things are occurring. His older buddy is a young "man of the world" a college boy who is experienced with women, a writer and philosopher, a handsome and sometimes arrogant guy. He puts his arm around his younger shy friend's shoulder and starts to teach him about wine women and song. It is a touching and fun relationship that works as well as any friendship relationship I've ever read. The observations of the younger as to the older's sometimes graphic and raunchy statements and experiences are absolutely brilliant and spot on. This is how life and relationships really work and the author has been able to convey these experiences in a way that makes us relive similar things in our lives as older kids taught us about what really goes on in the adult world and we're half thinking it's a lie and half believing it, yet shaking our heads. I can't think of a book I've read that does this kind of coming of age relationship as well.

3. Because the story moves fast and is more about relationships and internal observations, you would think that the history of the time is secondary. However, the story gives us a very realistic feeling of how it must have been to be suffering through the invasion of the Germans into Leningrad in the horrible cold of the winter without much good food or shelter or equipment. There is a lot of good information about the cold and calculated way of the Nazis and the underfunded and yet heroic attempts of the Russian people to fend them off. And yet, as important as the historical setting of the book is, the thing that makes it work well is the commentary and thoughts of our two friends and eventually heroes.

4. There are many other great characters in the book from the brilliant and interesting Nazi leader, an intense and talented young female sniper, and the spoiled and wealthy man who sends them on their ridiculously trivial mission in the first place.

This book is the reason you read fiction.
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Reading Progress

02/12 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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E.J. I like Benioff's writing style and have this book, but was holding off until I heard something good. I'll check it out now. thanks, Doug.

Rose Good insight. Really liked it too and recommended it to my husband who rarely reads fiction.

message 3: by Florence (last edited Sep 23, 2011 03:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Florence After reading this and shedding a few tears, I'm convinced David Benioff is the right man for Game of Thrones tv adaptation. Your insights are spot on with his writing style and treatment. He holds the tension really well and moves the pace just right. I'm on to get The 25th Hour!

Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh Thank god - I'm a female who happens to have no preference for books based on the gender of the author. I'm reading book club recommendations, seeing a definite trend (seriously, 90 percent)of recommendations by woman authors... Thanks for suggesting this - added to my 'to read list'

Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh Wow, 73 likes - nice one Doug! You know you invited me to your discussion group because of the above message (#4) I posted? So I'll always remember this book as being very special.

Doug Bradshaw Somehow I didn't see this comment. Great memory Florence

Laurie Jee I have read this book four times now and enjoy it immensely every time. I read it because of the reasons as listed above and more. I appreciate your review and agree wholeheartedly

Doug Bradshaw Laurie wrote: "I have read this book four times now and enjoy it immensely every time. I read it because of the reasons as listed above and more. I appreciate your review and agree wholeheartedly"

Hi Laurie, just read your comment. It makes me want to read it again too. What a touching and great book

Leslie Doug, I've only started this book, and already my heart is going pitter pat. You're right that City of Thieves is special. And I can't wait to get back to it. Your review is wonderful. I wish I could express myself as well. Will look for more of your reviews and am curious to see your reading list.

message 10: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Bradshaw Leslie wrote: "Doug, I've only started this book, and already my heart is going pitter pat. You're right that City of Thieves is special. And I can't wait to get back to it. Your review is wonderful. I wish I cou..."

Thanks for the kind words, Leslie. I'll be looking forward to your review. There's one thing that always makes me laugh about this book. I'm going to invite you to become a goodreads friend.

Leslie Great. Curious now to see if I find the laugh too. My reviews are pretty short and subjective. I'm not much of a writer. Nice to meet you. L

message 12: by Ann (new)

Ann Wonderful review. I avoid reviews that retell the story because why read the book if you already know? I will read this book now!

Elisabeth Tyler I really enjoyed this story and the easy way the author wrote it. He really made you feel like you were there with him and experiencing cold and starvation. I feel like I have a friendship with the characters and yet they are real people and not made up. I love reading stories of history that I can learn about through someone's life.

If you really enjoyed this book, I would recommend also reading The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister; by Nonna Bannister. It tells a similar story but you are experiencing Leningrad through a different perspective of WWII. And it really took place.

message 14: by David (new)

David Brock I just finished the book and though I was reluctantly entranced with the read, it did not really come together for me until the end. I don't know why, but if a book has a poor ending, the whole character of the book, even if it is substantial, fades. This is not the case with City of Thieves. While most of the reviews centered around Kolya and Lev, I was most intrigued with Vika. Benioff weaves just enough mystery in her character to leave me completely captivated by her. The woman who shows up on his doorstep at the end is a complete meta-morphis from the character developed during the novel. Going back and re-reading the first chapter gave me a whole new perspective on his grandmother. His initial portrayal of her describes a stalwart woman shaped by a hard life. It is cursory and brief. Yet it is not until the end that we realize that she has personally shot and killed numerous german soldiers. She does not want to talk about the war to her inquisitive grandson. She does not cook either. What a gal.

Ruthie Great review - you captured my thoughts so well! I hope you don't mind if I refer people to your review rather than try to top yours!

message 16: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Bradshaw LOL, thanks Ruthie and of course I don't mind. A lot of people I've recommended this book to have loved it.

Kenzie @David - I felt the same way and did exactly the same thing - reread the first chapter with a new perspective on Lev and Vika as people beyond grandparents. The full-circle ending really made the book for me and I'm actually excited to read it again for the prose. Glad to know someone else was as entranced with the arc as I was!

message 18: by Niko (new) - rated it 4 stars

Niko Great critic

message 19: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Bradshaw Thanks, Niko. Such a great book

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