City of Thieves Summary & Study Guide

David Benioff
This Study Guide consists of approximately 63 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of City of Thieves.
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City of Thieves Summary & Study Guide Description

City of Thieves Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on City of Thieves by David Benioff.

The following version of this book was used to create the guide: Benioff, David. City of Thieves. Penguin Books, 2016.

The novel consists of a prologue and 27 chapters. In the prologue, a 34-year-old American named David asked his Russian grandfather to tell him about his past. The 27 chapters are told from the grandfather, Lev’s, perspective. Chapters 1 to 26 cover a span of time from Friday to Thursday. Lev was a 17-year-old in Piter (an affectionate name for the city of Leningrad in Russia) during the siege of Leningrad, but he had to leave in search for eggs for the wedding of a colonel’s daughter. Chapter 27 occurs three and a half years later when he was still in Piter.

The prologue introduces us to David, a film writer who works in California. He visited his Russian immigrant grandparents and asked his grandfather to tell him about his past.

In Chapter 1, the novel is told from the perspective of Lev from when he was 17 during the siege of Leningrad. He and his childhood friends were on watch duty on their apartment's roof, and then a German soldier fell from a bomber aircraft. Since Leningrad was under rations, the kids were very hungry, and they searched the German’s body for food and supplies. Then Russian military officers chased them. Lev went back to help Vera escape, but then the police caught him and brought him to prison.

The officers put Lev into a dark cell and later placed a young Russian soldier a few years older than him, Kolya, also into the cell. Kolya said that people thought he was a deserter and that he had actually been defending his thesis on Ushakovo’s masterpiece, The Courtyard Hound. Lev had never heard of that novel nor that author before. Then Kolya gave him sausage. In the pitch dark cell, Kolya scrawled in his journal.

The next morning, the officers brought Lev and Kolya out from the prison and took them to Colonel Grechko. It was Saturday, and he said that their lives would be spared if they find a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake and bring them to him by Thursday.

When Lev and Kolya searched the Haymarket for eggs, a cannibal tried to attack them. They escaped. A young boy also told them about an old man who kept chickens on his roof. They went to the rooftop, and inside of the chicken coop was a dead old man and a dazed boy beside him. The boy gave them the only chicken that he had. It was weak and sickly. They brought the chicken to the home of Sonya, one of Kolya’s friends. When they learned that the chicken was actually a rooster and could not lay eggs, she cooked it for soup.

Since Sonya’s uncle raised chickens in Mga, Kolya and Lev left the next morning to walk there. Exhausted and in need of a place to sleep, they went to the house of Russian girls whom German officers forced to remain there as sex slaves. The girls told them that a German leader named Abendroth had sawed off the feet of their friend, Zoya, after she had tried to escape. That night, as the German officers arrived outside the house, a sniper shot them. That sniper, Vika, was part of a local resistance group of partisans whose goal was to kill Einsatzgruppen (Nazi death squads responsible for mass killings) and especially Abendroth, one of their leaders in the area.

Lev and Kolya traveled with the partisans, and as Lev and Kolya talked together, Lev noticed his pride when he spoke about The Courtyard Hound and Lev complimented them. He realized that Kolya was actually writing that novel. Out of fear of embarrassment, he had pretended that it was a novel by a different author.

The German officers started to gather more Russian prisoners once they realized that some Germans had been shot. Then Lev, Kolya, and the partisans fled. The Germans shot and killed Korsakov and another partisan during the chase. Eventually, Lev, Kolya, Vika, and Markov decided to sneak in with the Russian prisoners. Then a prisoner who recognized Markov had him killed. Vika told Lev and Kolya that she would shoot Abendroth. Then Kolya devised a plan. He talked to the German officers and wagered that Lev could beat Abendroth in a game of chess. He said that if Lev won, the officers would release Lev, Kolya, and Vika and give them a dozen eggs. If Abendroth won, he would shoot all three of them.

That night, Lev played chess with Abendroth. He felt afraid of him and believed he would not be able to kill him. He saw that Vika was about to pounce upon Abendroth to kill him and knew she would die if she did that. Therefore, he tried to pull his knife out of his boot and clumsily leapt toward Abendroth. The two officers ran to help Abendroth, who did not need their help, and inadvertently gave Vika and Kolya a moment to prepare to fight them. Lev stabbed and killed Abendroth, and then he killed the officer who had been fighting Kolya. Vika killed the other officer. Then they took the eggs and ran away.

On their way back, Vika pointed out the way for Lev and Kolya to get to Piter. Then she kissed Lev, asked him his surname, and left because the NKVD needed her for sniping elsewhere.

During their walk back to Piter, Kolya told Lev the ending of his novel, The Courtyard Hound. As Lev and Kolya neared Piter, Russian officers saw Kolya's German rifle and shot him. On the way to the hospital, as he was dying, he encouraged Lev to go to the wedding and dance with the colonel's daughter, asked Lev what he thought about the title of The Courtyard Hound, and smiled at Lev to comfort him.

When Lev handed the eggs to the colonel, he did not even look at them. He had three dozen eggs already. But he gave Lev a couple ration cards. He told Lev not to say that words that he wanted to say and said that not saying them is the secret to living long.

Three and a half years after Vika had left Lev in order to snipe elsewhere, she came to his apartment with her suitcase and a gift: an egg carton enclosing a dozen eggs "nestled in their snug compartments" (258).

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