Recommended Reading: City of Thieves

City of Thieves is the story of young Lev Beniov, a boy who tries to survive the siege of Leningrad in WWII. The book was written by David Benioff, a screenwriter by trade, who has also penned the scripts for movies like Troy, 25th hour, The Kite Runner and is currently heading the Game of Thrones tv series for HBO. He also has the incredibly difficult jobs of being married to Amanda Peet and being extremely wealthy (I don’t know how he does it).

The synopsis of City of Thieves as follows:

“Having elected to stay in Leningrad during the siege, 17-year-old Lev Beniov is caught looting a German paratrooper’s corpse. The penalty for this infraction (and many others) is execution. But when Colonel Grechko confronts Lev and Kolya, a Russian army deserter also facing execution, he spares them on the condition that they acquire a dozen eggs for the colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake.

Their mission exposes them to the most ghoulish acts of the starved populace and takes them behind enemy lines to the Russian countryside. There, Lev and Kolya take on an even more daring objective: to kill the commander of the local occupying German forces. A wry and sympathetic observer of the devastation around him, Lev is an engaging and self-deprecating narrator who finds unexpected reserves of courage at the crucial moment and forms an unlikely friendship with Kolya, a flamboyant ladies’ man who is coolly reckless in the face of danger. Benioff blends tense adventure, a bittersweet coming-of-age and an oddly touching buddy narrative to craft a smart crowd-pleaser.”

City of Thieves reminds me a bit of Slaughterhouse-Five. Both books are based off personal accounts of men surviving wars (Vonnegut’s personal experience when Dresden was firebombed and supposedly Benioff’s grandfather’s tales of surviving the siege of Stalingrad, a basis that is often questioned by critics though), but both still exist as works of fiction, using these experiences as a jumping off point for their fictional tales.

I really like this book. I had no expectations for it when I started reading it and was pleasantly surprised to find it to be a well written book with great characters, especially in the main trio of Lev, Kolya and Vika. Benioff is often criticized for writing his books like screenplays, but I think his prose in this book is effective enough to ward off such criticisms. It may not be the most accurate account of the siege of Leningrad, but it’s an entertaining, funny and sometimes poignant dramatization of the events that transpired. It should not be missed.


“We saw two women in their sixties walking very close together, their shoulders touching, eyes on the sidewalk looking for the patch of ice that could kill them. A man with a glorius walrus mustache carried a white bucket filled with black nails. A boy, no more than twelve, tugged a swled with a length of rope. A small body wrapped in blankets lay on the sled, a bloodless bare foot dragging along the hard-packed snow. Dragon’s teeth studded the street, reinforced concrete blocks arrayed in rows to hinder the movement of enemy tanks. A printed sign on the wall read WARNING! THIS SIDE OF THE STREET IS THE MOST DANGEROUS DURING BOMBING.” (42)

“The boy sold what people called library candy, made from tearing the covers off of books, peeling off the binding glue, boiling it down, and reforming it into bars you could wrap in paper. The stuff tasted like wax, but there was protein in the glue, protein kept you alive, and the city’s books were disappearing like the pigeons.” (52)

Publisher: Plume

Release Date: 2008

Similar To: Slaughterhouse-Five.

You will like this if: You like books. Er and also if you are looking for a breezy read with entertaining characters or have enjoyed any of Benioff’s other work.