David Benioff

City of Thieves

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City of Thieves Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 32-page guide for “City of Thieves” by David Benioff includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 27 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 10 important quotes, discussion questions, and key themes like Male Socialization.

Plot Summary

It is January 1942. Leningrad, nicknamed ‘Piter’, is under siege and its people are starving. 17-year-old Lev Beniov has remained in his beloved city, determined to help defend it even though he is too young to join the army. One night, while he and his friends guard the roofs of their apartment block, they see the body of a German parachutist fall from the sky. Abandoning their posts, they run to find it, helping themselves to the dead man’s possessions, including a knife. A few minutes later, Lev is caught and arrested for looting, but his friends manage to escape.

Lev is surprised that he is not immediately executed. In his prison cell, he is joined by Kolya, a handsome, charming and talkative soldier who has been arrested for desertion – something he fiercely denies. The next morning Lev and Kolya are taken to Colonel Grechko of the NKVD, who offers them a bizarre ‘gift’: his daughter is about to be married; if Lev and Kolya can find a dozen eggs for the wedding cake by the following Thursday, they will walk free.

Lev, the shy teenager, and Kolya, the outspoken extrovert, set off on their strange quest, and spend the next five days searching Leningrad and its surrounding area for eggs, though the market sellers tell them no one has had such luxuries for months. The first of many terrifying encounters is with a cannibal who lures them into his apartment with the promise of eggs. As a struggle to escape ensues, Kolya, an experienced soldier, saves Lev’s life, and Lev realizes that the man he has found so irritating is more than the boastful charmer he appears to be. From this point on, their friendship and respect for each other grows, though Lev continues to be exasperated by Kolya’s provocative manner; he is also jealous of Kolya’s popularity with women.

Intending to spend the night at Lev’s apartment, they discover, to Lev’s horror, that the building was destroyed in the previous night’s bombings. Kolya takes them to stay with his friend Sonya. After a failed attempt to obtain a chicken – which turns out to be a rooster – they set off on a 50km walk to Mga, behind German lines, where Sonya’s uncle has a poultry collective. Realizing they are lost, they come across a farmhouse, inhabited by four well-fed Russian girls. Kolya is angry as he realizes the girls are being kept as prostitutes for German officers, but the girls defend themselves by telling the story of their friend Zoya who attempted to run away, but was captured, tortured and killed in front of the other girls.

At Kolya’s insistence, they lie in wait for the German officers. Before they have a chance to attack, however, the Germans are shot and killed by a group of Russian partisans who were waiting outside. They are shocked to discover that the expert shooter is a girl, Vika; Lev is immediately smitten by this redheaded tomboy. Lev and Kolya then join the partisans to hunt for Abendroth, a notorious Einsatz officer responsible for Zoya’s death.

While resting at the partisans’ safe house, they are attacked by Germans. Several of the partisans are killed, but Lev, Kolya, Vika and another man, Markov, escape. However, when they see a German company approaching with Russian prisoners, there is no place to hide, so they merge in with the prisoners. Markov is shot dead when another prisoner denounces him as a partisan; the other three continue marching, unnoticed.

At a prison camp, Vika warns them to pretend to be illiterate to avoid execution. The next morning, the prisoners are on the road again when a German convoy approaches and Vika recognizes Abendroth. Kolya charms the Germans and arranges for Lev to challenge Abendroth to a game of chess; winning the game will buy their freedom and a dozen eggs. Lev wins the game and then attempts to stab Abendroth. Kolya and Vika take on the other officers, and Lev amazes himself by killing Abendroth and another German. They grab the box of eggs and escape out the window and into the woods.

Several hours later, Lev is devastated when Vika says she cannot come back to Leningrad with them, but must join another group of partisans. During an emotional goodbye, she kisses him and says she will track him down later on, but he believes he will not see her again. As Lev and Kolya continue their journey, they are shot at by Russian soldiers who mistake them for Germans. Kolya, who has become Lev’s dearest friend during the last five days, is shot in the backside and bleeds to death before they make it to the hospital. Bereft and alone, Lev continues the journey and takes the eggs to the colonel, who gives him his freedom and two Grade One ration cards.

The final chapter takes us to the end of the war. Lev, now an army journalist, is interrupted by a knock at the door. He sees a beautiful woman with long red hair. Vika, carrying a box of eggs, has found him, just as she promised.

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Chapters 1-3