City of Thieves

  • by David Benioff
  • Narrated by Ron Perlman
  • 8 hrs and 34 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A writer visits his retired grandparents in Florida 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 Jewish virgin too young for the army, who spends his nights working as a volunteer firefighter with friends from his building. When a dead German paratrooper lands in his street, Lev is caught looting the body and dragged to jail, fearing for his life. He shares his cell with the charismatic and grandiose Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested on desertion charges. Instead of the standard bullet in the back of the head, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel to use in his daughter's wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt to find the impossible. A search that takes them through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and the devastated surrounding countryside creates an unlikely bond between this earnest, lust-filled teenager and an endearing lothario with the gifts of a conman.Set within the monumental events of history, City of Thieves is an intimate coming-of-age tale with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.


Audible Editor Reviews

Two unlikely young men charged with desertion and facing execution in the besieged city of Leningrad are charged with an impossible task: they can have their freedom if they can find a dozen eggs for the wedding cake of a powerful colonel's daughter. The two make an odd couple: one a scrawny Jewish outsider, the other an erudite charmer, and their journey takes them from the war-torn city to the snow-covered countryside. Sound like the basis of a classic movie? That might be because the author, David Benioff, is a successful screenwriter, and City of Thieves is halfway between movie-script and roman-a-clef, between airport blockbuster and serious literature.
It's a difficult balancing act, but it succeeds here in no small part due to Ron Perlman's unforgettable narration. His voice is as full of character as his celebrated face, and his bar-room drawl brings a hard-boiled noir quality to the narration. It's a voice dripping in contraband and cordite, easily navigating the Russian names and injecting a sly, seductive humor into the dialogue that offsets the occasional lapse into sentimentality. It's a fantastic performance that succeeds in tying together the disparate elements of this rich tale.
Perlman also takes great relish in conveying the myriad of tiny details that Benioff weaves into the narrative, and which lend a cinematic quality to the work. Indeed, the author's screenwriting background is evident throughout: there's a tightly-constructed plot that never loses a sense of forward propulsion, even during the quieter moments; there is a skilful interweaving of film-school tropes — the buddy movie, the coming-of-age tale, the WWII film. And there's that attention to detail. Although Benioff has clearly done his research, it's the off-beat imagery that brings to life the reality of living in a besieged city: concrete dragon's teeth are arranged to hinder the approach of enemy tanks; leather boots still bloody from the feet of the previous owners; malnourished children's bones break easily.
A slightly superfluous framing narrative alerts us to the novel's more literary aspirations. The art of storytelling is central to this tale, and the narrative brims over with literary references: doomed poets, scabrous novelists, callous propagandists. The picaresque plot recalls A Hero of Our Time, and the main action begins with a German parachutist's corpse drifting down the empty streets, an image halfway between a movie storyboard and Lord of the Flies — just one of many evocative set-pieces in this highly entertaining adventure. —Dafydd Phillips


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great story . . . too much lowbrow writing

Fifteen reviews so far and nothing less than a 4-star? I bought the book because of the great reviews, the storyline and time period, and from the perspective of Russia. I was looking forward to the read. After 2 1/2 hours of listening, I had to hit the bail button.

I am continually astonished that writers that have a great storyline and something to say, proceed to poison the story by dragging it through the gutter. What purpose does it serve? Is the story enhanced because profanity is embedded into the whole thing? Oh, maybe a dose of graphic sexual situations will appeal to a broader audience? It is ridiculous! Good stories can stand on their own - period!

I mean, what does this have to do with anything: The two guys are watching the officers daughter ice skate in her fur coat and one of them is picturing her naked so later he can masturbate about her. What does this tell us about the guy? He is horny? Yeah, so what is new. How many ways do you have to tell us about a penis and the multiple slang terms for it? How many times do you have to use the "F" word?

Since books don't have ratings (like movies), I must make decisions on purchasing them from other reviews. Unfortunately, none were offered from this perspective. Ultimately, I am a little torqued that I spent my money to help support this book. Maybe our society is a little desensitized by this, but frankly I am sick of it. From what I have read of this story, if you removed the graphic vulgarity and sexuality, the story would NOT suffer.

I hope that authors would do us all a favor and continue to focus on good stories and keep the unneeded adjectives out... keep something to the reader's imagination. I hope this review would at least make other potential readers aware of what they're purchasing, and give another perspective because so many of us find this type of writing completely unnecessary.
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- Amazon Customer

Very Mixed Feelings

I was very torn reviewing this book. I thought the narration was very un-even. His dialogue narration was far better than is 'story-telling' narration. That being said, I found his narration extremely monotonal. I also found the sexual language and sexual/romantic storyline to be very primal and base and not romantic or loving at all. I know that I am certainly out-numbered on this issue: I guess the base and sexually implicit language might have been pertinent to the story, but I mostly found it to be offensive and vile. It is a well written story, but not worth the accolades, I've certainly read & listened to far better WWII novels
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- John

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-08-2009
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio