Doug Bradshaw's Reviews > City of Thieves

City of Thieves by David Benioff
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Jun 22, 08

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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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Rob (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob 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


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