Book Review: City of Thieves by David Benioff

Leningrad is under siege. Thousands of fled the city and those who are left behind struggle to find food, the threat of the Nazi army growing ever closer. Amidst this choas, young Lev is arrested. His father is dead, his mother and sister have left the city, which Lev knows as Piter, and so when Lev is thrown in with a young Cossack named Kolya, he takes the impossible option for freedom they are given: find a dozen eggs for a high-ranking official’s daughter’s wedding by Thursday.

Lev and Kolya are an unlikely pair – as all the best friendships begin. Lev is scrawny and naive, Jewish, the son of a man who disappeared under the authority of the local government. Kolya is handsome and blond, arrested as a deserter but claiming that he is writing a great work on an author Lev has never heard of. Kolya is charming and resourceful and Lev can’t help but be pulled in under his spell.

Their search for eggs – and what better to represent survival and rebirth than eggs? – brings them to the brink of death, brings them face-to-face with the horrors of what is occurring in Piter, and finally takes them out of the city to confront the oncoming Nazi forces.

In many ways, the story reads as something out of a young boy’s fantasy. Lev is our narrator and his mind is often focused on girls, on sex, and on his own fear. While I found Lev and Kolya to be at times annoying and very often disrespectful and ignorant, I also believe that their voices were true to what two teenage boys in their situation might have thought and said.

Once I got past the things I didn’t like about Lev and Kolya, I found myself quickly invested in their adventures. I found that the further they got out of the city, the more aware they seemed of the wider world around them and the ways the war was affecting others. In word, they experienced growth. I wanted to know what happened to Lev and Kolya, I wanted to keep reading. I found the ending unsatisfying but I also see the point that Benioff is making and I can accept that it fit with the book as a whole.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: City of Thieves by David Benioff”

  1. Hmm is this book YA? It sort of sounds like it could be, because the things you found annoying, I definitely would too. I just finished reading a middle grade novel and it made me feel so old for these same reasons – like I’m just getting older and grouchier LOL

    1. It’s not, the content would be a bit above YA, I think. But I can see how the writing style could fit into YA. The narrator is so young and he feels young. He’s technically supposed to be telling us this this story as an old man but there’s none of that perspective or more tempered voice to suggest that he has a different perspective on what happened later on.

  2. I’ve never heard of a novel set during World War II that sounds like this one. The idea of collecting eggs in exchange for freedom is new to me. Was this based on a true story?

    1. The intro to the novel suggests that the story comes from David interviewing his grandfather about his experience in the war. But from what I can find online, that in itself is a fictional pretence and the whole story is made up.

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