City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff
The City of Thieves David Benioff Cover
Source: Goodreads

City of Thieves

David Benioff 

 
Pages: 258 / Audio: 8 Hrs 34 mins
Published May 15th 2008 by Viking Adult (first published 2008)
 
From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival — and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

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.

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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_Author
Source: Goodreads

David Benioff

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

Revealing Interviews

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.

 
Writers' Confessions

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

 
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.

 

The City of Thieves David Benioff Cover

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Discussion Questions

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?

Happy Reading!

The Winds of War & War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk

The Winds of War & War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk

The Henry Family Series by Herman Wouk

2 Volumes

Source: Goodreads

A Masterpiece of Historical Fiction-The Great Novel of America's "Greatest Generation" Herman Wouk's sweeping epic of World War II, which begins with The Winds of War and continues in War and Remembrance, stands as the crowning achievement of one of America's most celebrated storytellers. Like no other books about the war, Wouk's spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events-and all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of World War II-as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very center of the war's maelstrom.

The Winds of War

Volume #1

 
Pages: 896 / Audio: 45 hrs and 53 mins
Published February 5th 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published November 15th 1971)
 
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War and Remembrance

Volume #2

 
Pages: 1056 / Audio:56 hrs and 8 mins
Published February 5th 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published 1978)
 

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"The purpose of the author in both War and Remembrance and The Winds of War was to bring the past to vivid life through the experiences, perceptions, and passions of a few people caught in the war's maelstrom. This purpose was best served by scrupulous accuracy of locale and historical fact, as the backdrop against which the invented drama would play."  ~ Herman Wouk in Notes by the Author

Carol's Rating: ★★★★★

Fantastic! This is How History Should be Told

If you're looking for an impactful, compelling, unputdownable, entertaining family drama packed with historical facts leading up to and into WWII, this is the series! I learned more about WWII from this book than from any other. Most history books tend to be a snooze for me, regardless of how badly I want to learn the information. But not this one. Herman Wouk is a masterful storyteller. His telling of history works because he humanizes it. You experience it through his characters.

Members of the fictional Henry family are completely believable characters; some lovable, some admirable, some total morons, and all with flaws we can relate to. As the members of this military family are spread across the world, we learn about the struggles of those affected by the war be it due to location, heritage, or personal convictions. We learn about the political players and strategic political plays. We learn historical details from different characters with different perspectives. I especially enjoyed that some chapters were devoted to Victor Henry's translation of "World Empire Lost", a history book written by a fictional German General, Armin von Roon, and to which Victor Henry offers his own insights.

My review hardly does justice to this series. But believe me, you don't want to pass this one by.

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About the Author

Herman Wouk
Source: geni.com

Herman Wouk

Born in 1915 into a Jewish family that immigrated from Russia to New York City, Herman Wouk is the author of such classics as The Caine Mutiny (1951), Marjorie Morningstar (1955), Youngblood Hawke (1961), Don't Stop the Carnival (1965), The Winds of War (1971), War and Remembrance (1978), and Inside, Outside (1985). His later works include The Hope (1993), The Glory (1994), and Hole in Texas (2004).

Among Mr. Wouk's laurels are the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Caine Mutiny; the cover of Timemagazine for Marjorie Morningstar, the bestselling novel of that year; and the cultural phenomenon of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, which he wrote over a thirteen-year period and which went on to become two of the most popular novels and TV miniseries events of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1998, he received the Guardian of Zion Award for support of Israel.

In 2008, Mr. Wouk was honored with the first Library of Congress Fiction Award, to be known as the Herman Wouk Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Writing of Fiction. His more recent works include The Lawgiver (2012). His autobiography, Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author, came out on his 100th birthday (January 2016). He lives in Palm Springs, California.

Source: bookbrowse.com

5 Reasons This is the Best History Book Ever. Period.

I have always wanted to understand the causes and events of WWII better, but most history books are painfully dry and quite honestly, far over my head. Not so with this book! The history is delivered in such a way that I was able to connect with it. I not only learned a ton but enjoyed it, too!
 

1. It clearly explains some of the causes behind WWII.

Of course, there are many factors but here's a big one.

 

The Treaty of Versailles

Quote from the book - Chapter 21 pg 16

The Versailles Treaty, said the Fuhrer, had simply been the latest of these foreign efforts to mutilate the German heartland. Because it had been historically unsound and unjust it was now dead."

The Treaty of Versailles (French: Trait de Versailles) was the most important of the peace treaties that brought World War I to an end. The Treaty ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required "Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage" during the war ....and forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers.

The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left no one content...

Source: Wikipedia


Video Source: Produced by the Department of Defense [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

An American silent film. "Shows views of the Palace of Versailles and of the gardens; the arrival of Fr. For. Min. Pichon, Premier Clemenceau, Robert Lansing, Gen. Bliss, Herbert Hoover, Fr. Gen. Mounory, Gens. Allen and Pershing, Col. House, Arthur Balfour, Ignace Paderewski, Lloyd George, Baron Sonnino, Amb. Hugh Wallace, and Pres. and Mrs. Wilson; Clemenceau addressing the gathering; the U.S. and British delegates signing the treaty; and Lloyd George, Premier Orlando, Clemenceau, and Pres. Wilson posing and being greeted by huge crowds."

 

 
2. It explains how Hitler was able to gain the position of power that he did.

Herman Wouk explains this rather brilliantly, through the memoirs of his fictional character, German Brigadier General Armin Von Roon, who directly served the Fuehrer, attempted to assassinate him, and was eventually sentenced to 21 years in prison for war crimes.

How Hitler Usurped Control of the Army

Quote from the book - Chapter 17 pg 6

In 1938, he and his Nazi minions did not scruple to frame grave charges of sexual misconduct against revered generals of the top command. ... the Nazis managed to topple the professional leadership in a bold underhanded coup based on such accusations. Hitler with sudden stunning arrogance then assumed supreme command himself! And he exacted an oath of loyalty to himself throughout the Wehrmacht, from foot soldier to general. In this act he showed his knowledge of the German character, which is the soul of honor, and takes such an oath as binding to the death."

Our staff, muted and disorganized by the disgusting revelations and pseudo-revelations about our honored leaders, offered no coherent resistance to this usurpation. So...the German army...came to an end; and the drive wheel of the world's strongest military machine was grasped by an Austrian street agitator."

 

 

3. It explains the roots of Hitler's anti-Semitism; his hostility toward Jews. Besides his being nuts.

A conversation between Byron Henry (youngest son of Victor & Rhoda Henry) and Leslie Slote (with the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland) cleared this up for me.

In an attempt to better understand the German people, Byron reads Adolf Hitler's 1925 autobiography, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) that describes Hitler's anti-Semitic views and political ideology. I was completely impressed (and envious) of Byron's ability to sum things up so succinctly.

Hitler's Anti-Semitism and Political Ideology - Mein Kampf

Quote from the book - Chapter 14 pg 15

Well, that's why I've been reading this book, to try to figure them out. It's their leader's book. Now, it turn out this is the writing of an absolute nut. The Jews are secretly running the world, he says. That's his whole message. They're the capitalist, but they're the Bolsheviks too, and they're conspiring to destroy the German people, who by right should really be running the world. Well, he's going to become dictator, see, wipe out the Jews, crush France, and carve off half of Bolshevist Russia for more German living space. Have I got it right so far?"

A bit simplified, but yes -- pretty much."

 

 

4. The author has stated that telling the history of the holocaust through the frame of WWII was his main task in life. I think he nailed it!

The theme and aim of The Winds of War can be found in a few words by the French Jew, Julien Benda:

Peace, if it ever exists, will not be based on the fear of war, but on the love of peace. It will not be the abstaining from an act, but the coming of a state of mind. In this sense the most insignificant writer can serve peace, where the most powerful tribunals can do nothing."

 

 

5 . Lastly, the family drama portion of this story. Oh yeah 🙂 It includes the good, the bad, the ugly, the naughty, the honorable, the adventurous, the vain, the foolish, the busy-bodies, the morons - and I loved every moment of it.

With that in mind, I just have to share my impression of Natalie Jastrow's behavior in Volume 1. Thankfully, my opinion of her improved in Volume 2.

 

Intriguing Interviews & Videos

Herman Wouk Says He's a 'Happy Gent' At 100

NPR Author Interview
January 14, 2016 |by Lynn Neary
Heard on All Things Considered | Listen 4:52

Herman Wouk 100 Winds of War

Herman Wouk has written a lot of well loved novels like The Winds of WarWar and Remembrance and The Caine Mutiny, which won him a Pulitzer Prize. But his latest achievement is a rare one Wouk reached a milestone that few of us will ever see: the age of 100.

Many years ago, a well known biographer approached Wouk about writing his life story. He gave her access to his journals, but after reading them, "she said, your literary career would be wonderful material and I'd love to do it," Wouk recalls. "But there is a spiritual journey running through your volumes which only you can do." ... Read more or listen below

 

Herman Wouk on CBS

by Nate Bloom | 

CBS Sunday Morning aired on July 2 an interview with author Herman Wouk, 102. Wouk's last book, the memoir Sailor and the Fiddler, was published in 2015. Now he says he will write no more new books, but he does write in his diary every day.

Frankly, the CBS interview seemed like the last word from Wouk. Just two years ago, in photos that accompanied a Sailor and Fiddler review in the New York Times, he was wearing nice, casual clothes (including a Panama-type hat) and was sporting a long, well-groomed white beard. However, in the CBS interview, he is in a bathrobe, in a wheelchair and has an oxygen tube up his nose. His beard is a bit ragged and he wears a simple yarmulke on his bald head.


Still, his mind is still sharp. He quickly discusses his most famous work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny (based on his World War II naval service). And he talks about the aim of his central life work: to fix down in literature what happened in World War II and the Holocaust. Besides The Caine Mutiny (1951), Wouk also wrote Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978). The latter graphically depicted the Holocaust and was the foundation for a 1988-89 TV miniseries of the same name.

TV Miniseries Promo Trailers

Discussion Questions

1. Do you feel you came to know the characters personally? Some characters more than others?

2. Has reading this book helped you feel closer to any of your friends or family members or helped you gain a better sense of what they may have lived through?

3. Do you believe the author gives an accurate account of history and human nature?

4. What has the author stated was the "main task of his life"? Do you feel he accomplished it?

5. Have you watched the television mini-series based on this book series?  Does it follow the general rule that the book is better than the movie or is it an exception?

6. What were the most enlightening things you learned from reading this series?

7. Who were your favorite characters?

8. Which characters do you feel experienced the most growth and development? Give examples.

9. What do you think is the overall take away from this series?

10. Were you in Natalie's shoes throughout this story, would you have made similar decisions in her circumstances?

 

 

 

Happy Reading!