City of Thieves (novel)
City of Thieves is a 2008 historical fiction novel by David Benioff. Both a coming of age story and a black comedy, City of Thieves recounts World War II adventures of two young men in the Leningrad area as they desperately search for a carton of eggs for a Soviet NKVD officer during the German siege of the city. It appears to be in part based on Benioff's grandfather's own wartime experiences.
The story as introduced is the recollections of a contemporary Russian Jewish émigré living in Leningrad (which the narrator refers to as "Piter", the nickname residents use for their city) as his poet father was recently "disappeared" by the Soviet secret police NKVD and his mother and sister have fled the besieged city. Lev is arrested for looting the body of an ejected Luftwaffe pilot. Thrown into a prison, he meets Kolya Vlasov, a young Cossack soldier arrested for deserting his unit. Though just three years older than Lev, Kolya is more cultured and refined than Lev. The two are brought to Colonel Grechko of the NKVD who barters with them: if they are able to obtain a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's upcoming wedding within five days, Lev and Kolya will be given their freedom. If they are unable to find the eggs, a luxury in the starving Leningrad, both will be executed.
During Lev and Kolya's journey for the eggs, they come across an assorted cast of characters, including cannibals and a group of Soviet partisans. At the brink of death, Lev and Kolya encounter a small cottage hosting three young girls, who are kept there for the German soldiers to rape at night. Lev and Kolya plot to attack the next Germans to come, and as they start their attack, they meet the Soviet Partisans. Eventually, Lev and Kolya venture into a poultry farm outside the city and allow themselves to be taken prisoner by the Germans. To gain the coveted dozen eggs, Lev must beat a sadistic German officer with the Einsatzgruppen death squads in a game of chess. Lev beats the man at the chess game and then kills him with a knife he has hidden in his boot, losing half his finger in the fight. He, Kolya, and Vika (a female survivor of the partisan group) kill the other guards before escaping. Vika leaves them to find another partisan group and they return to "Piter". As they approach the city on their way back, Kolya is shot by a Soviet soldier. He is taken to hospital but bleeds to death anyway, while Lev discovers that the colonel had three dozen eggs airlifted in. At the end of the novel Lev is in his apartment when Vika, who had promised to track him down, turns up. She says she does not cook, suggesting they later married, as at the start Lev's grandson says his grandmother would never cook.
The book was very well received by most critics, including Jesse Berrett of San Francisco Gate and Boris Fishman of The New York Times. According to Jennifer Reese of Entertainment Weekly, "By listening carefully—and making the rest up—Benioff has produced a funny, sad, and thrilling novel. A-". However, Donna Rifkind of Los Angeles Times wrote that while the book "features a snappy plot, a buoyant friendship, a quirky courtship, an assortment of menacing bad guys, an atmosphere that flickers between grainy realism and fairy-tale grotesquerie and a grim but irrepressible sense of humor," it left her "thoroughly and discouragingly unmoved".
The novel was also credited as a major artistic inspiration for the critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic video game The Last of Us. The game's director Bruce Straley said: "It's nice to be inspired by [...] the right things. City of Thieves is an amazing book. Everybody should check that out."
- Jesse Berrett (2008-05-13). "Fiction review: Benioff's 'City of Thieves'". SFGate. Retrieved 2013-09-16.
- Wartime Rations - Book Review - 'City of Thieves,' by David Benioff, NYTimes.com, July 6, 2008
- Jennifer Reese (2008-05-20). "City of Thieves Review | Book Reviews and News". EW.com. Retrieved 2012-09-04.
- "'City of Thieves' by David Benioff | A teen fights for survival during the Siege of Leningrad", latimes.com, May 11, 2008
- Minkley, Johnny (2011-12-13). "The Last of Us Preview • Previews •". Eurogamer.net. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
- "The Last of Us: Naughty Dog On Elevating the Interactive Medium | GamesIndustry International". Gamesindustry.biz. 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2013-09-16.