City of Thieves Major Character Analysis

David Benioff

City of Thieves

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City of Thieves Major Character Analysis


At the start of the novel, Lev is young, naïve and sexually inexperienced. Nonetheless, he has experienced far more than the average 17-year-old. His father, a poet who expressed his political views too candidly, was taken away in 1937 and never returned. Lev also shows strength of character in standing up to his mother and asserting his wish to stay in Leningrad and defend the city against the Germans.

Lev longs to be a man and a hero figure, but he does not delude himself. He is flawed and loveable, demonstrating an admirable capacity for self-awareness and honesty. He openly admits to his weaknesses and shortcomings – for example, in Chapter 1 when he and his friends are caught looting, he is tempted to abandon Vera and save himself. Though he does choose the noble option and sacrifice himself, he is a somewhat reluctant hero.

Once imprisoned in the Crosses, Lev admits to being terrified and unable to live up to his ideal of heroism:

So many great Russians endured long stretches in prison. That night I learned I would never be a great Russian. A few hours alone in a cell, suffering no torture other than the darkness and the silence and the absolute cold, a few hours of that and I was already half broken. (Chapter 2, pp.29-30)

Nonetheless, despite his lack of faith in himself, throughout the novel Lev demonstrates true strength and heroic qualities in his ability to endure the harshest of conditions while his life and Kolya’s life hang in the balance; ultimately he saves not only his own life, but also Kolya’s and Vika’s. Furthermore, his lack of arrogance and honest admission of his true thoughts and feelings endear him to the reader and make him a sympathetic and multi-faceted character with whom it is easy to empathize.


While Lev cowers in the Crosses, Kolya breezes in arrogantly, showing no signs of the fear that has consumed his cellmate. He is handsome, charming and talkative, and his outspoken comments provide the novel with an element of comedy. A scholar of literature who displays an air of intellectual superiority,…

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