City of Thieves
During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, 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 Soviet 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 through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.
By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.
Carol's Rating: ★★★★★
"Calm yourself, my morbid little Israelite. I won't let the bad men get you."
There was nothing about this book that I couldn't love; the main characters, the plot, the pace, the writing -- it was all fantastic. I was hooked from the first sentence. I think what stands out most to me is the writing. The words flow effortlessly. They are smooth and descriptive. I was not reading so much as I was mentally seeing the story play out like a movie. I could see, hear, and feel the emotions, events, environment, and the characters. David Benioff is an amazing writer and storyteller. This is a book I could read over and over and enjoy it more each time.
About the Author
David Benioff (born David Friedman but changed his name to take his mother's maiden name) was born and raised in New York City and attended Dartmouth College and the University of California at Irvine. His father, Stephen Friedman, is a former chairman of Goldman Sachs and current Chairman of the United States President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Before the publication of his first novel The 25th Hour, Benioff worked as a club bouncer and high school English teacher, until his adaptation of The 25th Hour into a feature film directed by Spike Lee led to a new new career as a screenwriter, including the screenplays for "The Kite Runner".
Stories from his critically acclaimed collection When the Nines Roll Over appeared in Best New American Voices and The Best Nonrequired American Reading. His latest novel is City of Thieves. He is also a co-creater of the award winning HBO series, "Game of Thrones". He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Amanda Peet, and daughter. Source: Bookbrowse.com
City of Thieves was my first exposure to David Benioff. I don't follow Game of Thrones -- I know, I know. Oh, the shame! However, after reading City of Thieves and loving it as much as I did, I was fascinated with this author and had to learn more about him. Below are some wonderful interviews discussing his books, his writing process, fears, other authors, X-Men, Game of Thrones, and more. Such a genuine, talented man.
David Benioff on Writing:
Game of Thrones, City of Thieves & Telling Lies for Grown Ups
Published on Jul 8, 2013
In this interview with Rich Fahle of Bibliostar.TV, writer, screenwriter, and Producer David Benioff explains how the Game of Thrones books helped him rediscover his fantasy roots, his love of the New York filmmakers of his 1970s youth, the story behind his own successful novels, and the challenges of adapting beloved stories for the big screen.
Published on Jul 18, 2010
David Benioff discusses screenwriting and other aspects of the writing process. Shot during the 2008 International Festival of Authors at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
A Conversation with David Benioff
Source: Penguin Random House
Q. City of Thieves begs the question: Did all this really happen to your grandfather?
No. My grandfather was born on a farm in Delaware. He became a furrier and died in Allentown, Pennsylvania. My grandmother (unlike the non-cooking grandmother in the book) made the best chopped chicken liver in the state. Neither one, as far as I know, ever visited Russia.
Q. David notes, “Truth might be stranger than fiction, but it needs a better editor.” (p. 4) How much “editing” did you do?
See answer to number one. A whole lot.
Q. How much additional research did you do to write this novel?
I had a wonderful teacher once, the novelist Ann Patchett. I asked her about the research she did for The Magician’s Assistant, and she told me to choose the single best book on the given subject and study it obsessively. Writers are always tempted to track down dozens of books to help give our make-believe stories that tang of authenticity, but often the problem with too much research is a writing style that seems too researched, dry and musty, and eager for a history teacher’s gold star of approval.
Unfortunately, my will was not strong enough for me to follow Ann’s advice. I did end up reading dozens
Q. You’re a successful Hollywood screenwriter. The Kite Runner is something you recently adapted for film. Why did you make David a writer of “mutant superhero” movies?
David, the narrator of the prologue, is not David the guy writing these words. The David of the novel (who might or might not be David Beniov; it is not clear whether Lev Beniov is David’s paternal or maternal grandfather) is similar to me in many respects, but he’s not me. That said, I did write the screenplay for Wolverine, featuring a mutant superhero.
Q. In the novel, David “realized I had led an intensely dull life. . . . I didn’t want to write about my life, not even for five hundred words.” (p. 3) Would you have preferred—as the Chinese curse says—to live in “interesting times”?
Unfortunately, these are interesting times. The narrator goes on to say that he enjoys his life; and I do, too.
Q. At first glance, City of Thieves and The 25th Hour seem to tell very different stories—one is historical and set during a time of great societal upheaval, while the other is contemporary and deals with one man facing his own crimes. Yet both are ultimately about young men and friendship. What draws you to write a particular story?
That’s a hard question to answer. In both cases the stories were stuck in my mind for years before I wrote them. The 25th Hour was based on a short story I wrote in college. Seven years after I wrote the story, the characters were still chattering in my brain, which seemed to me a good sign that I wasn’t finished with them.
For City of Thieves I had the characters and story in 2000 but could never quite figure out how to write the novel. I kept shifting back and forth between first person and third person. I rewrote the opening page at least a dozen times. Finally, in September 2006, I got cracking for real.
Q. If you were in Lev’s place, do you think you would have chosen to stay in Leningrad or would you have left with your mother and sister? Why?
I don’t know. If something happened to my mother and sister on their way to safety, the guilt would probably destroy me. At the same, if you’re a teenage boy, living in the center of the greatest armed conflict in the history of the world, you don’t want to flee. You want to do your part and protect your city.
Q. A lot of what Lev sees and experiences could be described as tragic, yet his story is told with a lot of humor. What made you decide to give the novel its light-hearted tone?
I’m not sure if light-hearted is the right word for a story that includes cannibalism, forced prostitution, involuntary amputation, and starvation. What inspired the humor was reading the diaries of the Leningrad survivors. Their daily accounts of their struggles are often grim, but almost always hopeful and full of life. People continued attending (and performing in) concerts, plays, and poetry readings despite all the suffering around them.
Q. What are the differences between writing for film and writing a novel? What do you like and dislike about each?
Screenplays are much shorter: Twelve weeks and you’re done. A novel can take years. Writing a novel is an endurance sport, a marathon, while a screenplay (or a short story) is more of a middle-distance race—800 meters, say. To extend this possibly inane analogy, a poem would be a sprint in a stadium with no spectators.
Q. What are you working on now?
A series for HBO. We’ll see if it ever gets made.
Words & Wine: David Benioff - City of Thieves
Published on Apr 26, 2009
David Benioff joins Warren for another evening of Words & Wine where they measure the importance of talent, place a friendly wager, and stress the importance of bowel movements.
Source: Penguin Random House
- David wants to hear about his grandfather’s experiences firsthand. Why is it important for us to cultivate and preserve our oral histories? Do you have a relative or friend whose story you believe should be captured for posterity?
- Lev’s father is taken—and almost certainly killed—by the NKVD, yet Lev himself stays behind to defend Leningrad. How do you think he reconciled his patriotism to his love for his father?
- In the midst of a major historical moment, Lev is preoccupied with thoughts of food and sex. What does this tell us about experiencing history as it unfolds?
- From the cannibals in the market to the sex slaves in the farmhouse, there are numerous illustrations of the way in which war robs us of our humanity. In your opinion, what was the most poignant example of this and why?
- Kolya tells Lev that the government should “put the famous on the front lines” (p. 67) rather than use them as the spokespeople for patriotic propaganda. Do you agree or disagree? Can you think of any contemporary instances of this practice?
- Aside from the sly pride that Lev notices, are there any other clues that give Kolya away as the true author of The Courtyard Hound?
- Do you think Markov’s denouncer should have remained silent about the partisan’s presence? Did either of them deserve to die?
- Even moments before Lev pulls his knife on the Sturmbannführer, he thinks: “I had wanted him dead since I’d heard Zoya’s story. . . . [But] I didn’t believe I was capable of murdering him” (p. 228). Do you think everyone—given the right motivation—is capable of killing another human being? Could you?
- Lev takes an instinctive dislike to Kolya yet comes to consider him his best friend. What was the turning point in their relationship?
- Lev says that Vika “was no man’s idea of a pinup girl,” (p.149) but he is instantly infatuated. Would he have been drawn to her had they met in different—safer—circumstances?