City of Thieves (novel)
UK hardcover edition cover artwork
City of Thieves is a 2008 historical fiction novel by David Benioff. It is, in part, a coming of age story set in the World War II Siege of Leningrad. It follows the adventures of two youths as they desperately search for a dozen eggs at the behest of a Soviet NKVD officer, a task which takes them far behind enemy lines.
The story is introduced as the recollections of the author's grandfather Lev, a contemporary Russian Jewish émigré. It is set in the first week of 1942, with Lev trying to survive the Siege of Leningrad after his father is "disappeared" by the NKVD and his mother and sister flee the city. Lev is arrested for looting the body of an ejected Luftwaffe pilot. Thrown in prison, he meets Kolya Vlasov, a young Cossack soldier arrested for deserting his unit. 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, 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 search for the eggs, they meet a pair of cannibals and a boy in the black market selling "library candy", food made from the bindings of books. They leave the city and go behind enemy lines. At the brink of death, Lev and Kolya encounter a small cottage hosting four young women, who are kept there by the German soldiers to rape at night. Lev and Kolya plot to attack the next Germans to come, and as they start their attack, an unseen group of Soviet partisans launches their own attack. Lev, Kolya, and Vika, a female partisan, 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 defeat a German officer of the Einsatzgruppen death squads in a game of chess. Lev wins the game and then kills the German with a knife he has hidden in his boot. He, Kolya, and Vika kill the other guards and escape.
Vika leaves to find another partisan group, but promises to find Lev after the war. As Lev and Kolya approach Leningrad on their way back, Kolya is shot by a Soviet soldier. He is taken to hospital but bleeds to death, while Lev discovers that the colonel had three dozen eggs airlifted in.
The epilogue is set three years later. Lev is in his apartment when Vika turns up, bringing him, as a joke, a carton of twelve eggs. She warns him that she does not cook, suggesting they later married, as at the start Lev's grandson says his grandmother would never cook.
The book was 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 a major artistic inspiration for the 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."
- Benioff, David (2009-03-31). City of Thieves: A Novel. New York: Plume. ISBN 9780452295292.
- Benioff, David; Perlman, Ron; Audio, Penguin. City of Thieves. Penguin Audio.
- 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.