David's Reviews > City of Thieves

City of Thieves by David Benioff
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's review
Feb 07, 2009

it was ok
Read in February, 2009

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 be wrong -- the only way I know what people in those situations is from books or movies. But I read City of Thieves directly after finishing In Pharaoh's Army, by Tobias Wolff, about his Vietnam experience. Wolff's book feels like the real thing, there isn't a word that I didn't believe -- all right, there was one sentence -- while City of Thieves feels as if it was written by someone who read a book about the siege of Leningrad, then tried to make ART out of it.

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message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

There is probably always a noticeable difference between novels written from direct experience and novels written second hand (either from stories handed down or research). Whether one is better or worse than another depends on what the writer's goal is.

Also, comparing the psychology of a Russian Jew in Leningrad in WWII and an American soldier in the Vietnam War is not likely to be useful. Attitudes and responses to war have varied greatly over the ages. (Remember the spectators going out to watch the Union Army "trounce" the Rebels in the first Battle of Bull Run?) And even between WWII and Vietnam, there were fundamental changes in the way civilians and soldiers perceived war.

I'm not trying to convince you to love CITY OF THIEVES. But if the plot was "compelling, and the characters "pretty interesting" and the atmosphere in a lot of scenes "just right," I'm not sure why you would call it "terrible." That seems a little harsh for a book that clearly succeeds on many levels, if not all.

Drew Davis First of all did you not realize the book is a work of fiction! Of course you did not believe a word of it. It never really happened. This book is written about a story his grandfather told him about what happened to him during the siege of Leningrad during WWII. He talks about how there were parts of the story he just made up. I am sorry you did not like the book but don't give it a bad name because you could not believe a word of a fictional book.

Kathleen Based upon the experiences of people I've talked to in London who survived the Blitz, I felt this book was pretty true to life with regard to how people deal with a prolonged period of strife. Although the people of London weren't starving to death, they faced a lot of deprivation and fell asleep every night not knowing if they would wake up in the morning. I'm not sure how you think people would really behave in such situations, but children continue to play, people continue to make love, and everyone adapts as well as they are able to an insane situation. People have an almost unlimited capacity to adapt to difficult situations and survive. I'm only about half-way through this book, but it's one of the best I've read in a long time, and I would highly recommend it.

message 5: by La (new) - rated it 3 stars

La I would have to agree with Kathleen. If you talk to people who grew up in London during WWII, or Dutch people who lived through the "Starvation Winter," you can get the sense that there arrives a certain sense of adaptive acceptance and behavioral accommodation as a result of this prolonged stress. If you didn't like the book, that's fine, but I think it's a mistake to try to compare it to Wolff's Vietnam book. Perhaps you would've liked it better if you'd read it as a stand-alone book. They were really books about two quite different experience, and Bonioff's voice was really much more akin to that of a Jewish storyteller, sharing a tale embellished with a bit of fantasy, exaggeration and embellishment. Not intended to be a blood and guts, in-your-face depiction. Although there were definitely some blood and guts.

Geoff Drew wrote: "First of all did you not realize the book is a work of fiction! Of course you did not believe a word of it. It never really happened. This book is written about a story his grandfather told him abo..."
Great answer. Oh, and me-a grown man almost crying at the end-also fiction

Simon What a terrible review!

Holly I really believe that you have to be ripe and ready for a book. Following the Wolff book with this one might not have been the best idea. The two flavors don't go together.

Steph The book could have had the style of Viktor Frankl, but he is a survivor, he doesn't need to cuss to describe the atrocities.

I agree that there was lots of unnecessary crudeness with all that sexual stuff about women, not to say it wasn't a reality, but it was best left out of a book that describes atrocities of the magnitude of the siege of Leningrad.

yes, levity could be had without the crassness, I gave it a low rating because of it, it was hard for me to read it because the vernacular was puerile.

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