City of Thieves Chapters 1-3 Summary & Analysis

David Benioff

City of Thieves

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City of Thieves Chapters 1-3 Summary & Analysis


The American narrator tells us about his Russian grandparents who lived in Leningrad during World War II but have never talked about their experiences, though the whole family knows that “My grandfather, the knife fighter, killed two Germans before he was eighteen” (p.1). Despite their reticence, the narrator finally persuades his grandfather to talk about his life in Russia: “But mostly he talked about one week in 1942, the first week of the year, the week he met my grandmother, made his best friend, and killed two Germans” (p.7). The rest of the novel is the grandfather’s story, told in his own words.

Chapter 1 Summary

The novel, narrated by 17-year-old Lev Beniov, a citizen of Leningrad, has a compelling and dramatic opening. It is January 1942 and Lev bluntly informs the reader of the extreme deprivation, starvation and intense fear that has pervaded Leningrad since the Germans arrived the previous June.

Lev tells us that many of Leningrad’s citizens have already evacuated the city, including his own mother and sister. Lev chose to stay behind, for he feels strongly that he wants to defend his beloved city, which is nicknamed ‘Piter’. At 17, he is too young to join the army, but he contributes to the war effort by digging antitank ditches during the day and guarding the roofs of the Kirov, his apartment block, at night. While guarding the roofs, he is accompanied by his friends Vera and twins Oleg and Grisha. During one of these night watches, Vera spots the body of a dead German parachutist falling from the sky. For these naïve young teenagers, the discovery brings great excitement and the opportunity for looting; Lev helps himself to the parachutist’s knife.

However, a few moments later, they are thrown into a terrifying experience as soldiers find them. The punishment for looting is ‘summary execution’. They run back to the Kirov, and Lev almost makes it over the gate then reluctantly turns back to help Vera who has slipped. Vera follows the twins into the building, but Lev is caught and arrested.

Chapter 2 Summary

Lev is taken to the local prison,…

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