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Literature / City of Thieves (2008)

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"The birthplace of Bolshevism, that city of thieves and maggots."
Adolf Hitler (on Leningrad)

A popular 2008 novel by David Benioff (who would become better known years later as co-showrunner of Game of Thrones) that takes place during the siege of Leningrad.

In its concise 258 pages, it tells the story of Lev, a timid Jew doing his best to survive the harsh winter with no food or supplies. One day, while Lev and his friends were on the roof of their apartment building, they see a dead German paratrooper fall from the sky, and they quickly rush to the body and loot it (Lev gets a fancy German knife). While they're robbing the corpse, the NKVD arrive to arrest them for illegal looting (and by "arrest" we mean "shoot dead on the street"). His three friends get away, but Lev is caught after helping one go over a fence. Instead of shooting him right then and there, they take him to the Crosses, a famous convict prison, to spend the night. There, Lev meets Kolya, a coarse and talkative army deserter.


The next morning, Lev and Kolya are escorted to an NKVD headquarters. There, they meet Colonel Grechko, who feeds them and tells them of his daughter's upcoming wedding. He says he is in need of a dozen eggs to make the cake, with eggs being among the rarer things to find in a besieged Leningrad. So Grechko asks them to go all over Leningrad to find these eggs in exchange for their ration cards back (which he took prior to asking them).

The rest of the story follows from there; Lev and Kolya traveling through Russia in search of these eggs.

Not to be confused with the Fighting Fantasy gamebook of the same name.


City of Thieves provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Vika, sniper extraordinaire and a partisan.
  • Belated Injury Realization: Lev, doesn't notice losing half of a finger in a fight.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The search for eggs is ultimately pointless and Kolya dies in the attempt to get home. However, Vika and Lev apparently hook up in the end - his grandson mentions that grandma "never cooks," implying that Vika and her are one and the same person.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: A ten-ruble banknote that was (badly) counterfeited by the Nazis to lower the value of the actual notes.
    Kolya: [reading the note] "The prices for food items and the necessities of daily life have increased enormously and the black market in the Soviet Union is florishing." "Flourishing" is spelled wrong, by the way. "Party functionaries and Jews are working dark deals at home while you at the front have to sacrifice your life for these criminal." "These criminal", that's nice. They occupy half the country and they can't even find someone who speaks the language?
  • Brick Joke: Kolya's recurring obsession with how long it's been since he last took a shit becomes a plot point towards the end. In an extremely non-funny and harrowing way: Kolya tries to drag Lev off to see his shit, Lev refuses because he doesn't want to look at that, and as they have a slight fight, Lev falls over on top of the egg box. Fortunately, the eggs survive.
    • Another one is the search for eggs. While the main plot has it be a "Shaggy Dog" Story, it turns out the epilogue isn't that bad, as Vika and Lev reunite, with Vika bringing the eggs for the reunion.
  • Cold Sniper: Vika, although she warms up a bit.
  • Coming-of-Age Story:
  • Cowardly Lion: Lev makes numerous punches at himself for his cowardice.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Korsakov, one of the partisans, gets the bottom half of his face blown off by a German when they're trying to escape oncoming forces.
    • At the end of the novel, Kolya is Shot in the Ass by his fellow Russians. That's gotta be at least considered "unusual".
    • Zoya, a fourteen year old Sex Slave, gets her feet sawed off by Abendroth of the Einsatzgruppen after she tries to run away.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lev to Kolya pretty much whenever he talks.
  • Determinator: Lev and Kolya, following a black market seller's tip, find a boy and his frozen-dead grandfather in a chicken coop on the roof of a building holding a gun and one last chicken. Despite their best intentions, he is unwilling to leave the post his grandfather held valiantly against the thieves trying to get to his chickens. (He does give them the chicken on the brink of his death, when he realizes there's no point in it anymore).
  • Emotionless Girl: Vika, who is disinterested in all things that aren't war. She's badass enough to be The Stoic, too.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Vika can't, or rather, doesn't like to, thus making her one of the least feminine girls in a work of fiction.
  • Friends with Benefits: Kolya and Sonya, who dwell in their "benefits" while Kolya and Lev are housed at her place.
  • Handsome Lech: Kolya, who boasts much experience in the matters of sex (and even gets some while on the trip), despite his nature.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Colonel Grechko's daughter. Both Lev and Kolya only need to see her from a distance to go crazy over her looks. Part of it is the fact that she's one of the first well-fed and healthy-looking people they've seen for months.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Lev and Kolya, to the point where Vika compares them to a pair of lovers more than a few times.
  • Hope Spot: When Lev and Kolya find the last surviving chicken in the roof coop already on the second day of their search. Turns out it's a rooster.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: While there is the suspicious meat that is most probably human, there is a much more explicit example.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Kolya, who even finds a way to jerk-off while walking when he's bored.
  • Mercy Kill: Kolya slitting a disembowelled dog's throat.
  • Mystery Meat: With an uncomfortably high probability of it being made of human.
  • Non-Action Guy: Lev, who's never been close to the type of violence and pace that he experiences in the trip.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Lev and Kolya, in the early search for eggs, come across a the building of a desperate husband and wife where the limbs and rib cages of women and small children hang from chains on the ceiling.
  • The Quest: Risking their lives...all for a dozen eggs.
  • Revenge: A random Russian in a prisoner line tells his German captors that Markov, another partisan, is a partisan as revenge against Markov for stealing all the food in his house. Vika gets revenge on that guy later that night, while everyone is sleeping, and slits his throat.
  • Running Gag: How long has it been since Kolya's taken a shit?
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Lev discovers in the end that the Colonel just had eggs airlifted for his daughter's wedding.
  • Sex Slave: The girls being kept in the cabin by the Einzatzgruppen.
  • Snow Means Death: The cold is Mother Russia's oldest weapon, after all.
  • Shot in the Ass: And it's not Played for Laughs. At all.
  • There Is No Higher Court: There's not even a court to begin with.
    The punishment for violating curfew without a permit was summary execution. The punishment for abandoning a firefighting detail was summary execution. The punishment for looting was summary execution. The courts no longer operated; the police officers were on the front lines, the prisons half full and dwindling fast. Who had food for an enemy of the state? If you broke the law and you were caught, you were dead. There wasn't any time for legal niceties.
  • Toilet Humour: A favorite of Kolya's
  • Those Wacky Nazis
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: They had to go there to find the eggs, after all.

Alternative Title(s): City Of Thieves


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