City of Thieves

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City of Thieves Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on David Benioff's City of Thieves. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of David Benioff

David Benioff was born and raised in New York City. His family is Jewish and he is the youngest of three children. He attended The Collegiate School and Dartmouth College, graduating in 1992. He held several odd jobs after graduation including a club bouncer in San Francisco and a high school English teacher and wrestling coach in Brooklyn, NY. He attended grad school twice, first at Trinity College Dublin in 1995 for Irish literature and then at UC Irvine for a MFA in creative writing. He completed his first novel, The 25th Hour, as his thesis at Irvine. It was later made into a film directed by Spike Lee. In addition to City of Thieves, his second novel, Benioff has written several screenplays including Troy (2004), The Kite Runner (2007), and most notably X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). While studying in Dublin, Benioff met D.B. Weiss, with whom he began adapting George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels for television in 2006. The adapted series Game of Thrones premiered on HBO in 2011 and has won numerous awards, including 38 Primetime Emmy awards and a Peabody Award. Benioff married actress Amanda Peet in 2006 and they have three children together. The family splits time between homes in Manhattan and Beverly Hills.
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Historical Context of City of Thieves

Joseph Stalin came to power in the Soviet Union in 1922. Following the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, Stalin began consolidating power, expanding the functions of his role, and eliminating all opposition. In 1928, he launched the first of many “five-year plans” meant to industrialize and transform Soviet society from an agrarian one to an industrial one. Meanwhile, the Soviet government censored everything from news to art. Lev's father was likely arrested during the Great Purge, a campaign of political repression from 1936-1938 in which the NKVD – the Soviet secret police – arrested political figures, members of the Red Army, and a number of artists and writers. World War II began in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. The Soviet Union had previously signed a non-aggression pact with Germany that also divided Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union. In June of 1941, however, Hitler broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union, advancing within 20 miles of Moscow and severing the last road to Leningrad and beginning a siege of the city in September. The siege lasted nearly three years, until January 1944, and remains one of the longest and most brutal sieges in modern history.

Other Books Related to City of Thieves

As a contemporary World War II novel intended for young adults, City of Thieves shares similarities with novels such as All the Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr and The Book Thief (2007) by Markus Zusak. The novel also makes explicit references to several Russian writers and poets. Lev compares elements of The Courtyard Hound to the novel Oblomov (1859) by Ivan Goncharov, and the poet Osip Mandelstam is mentioned as a friend and peer of Lev's father. Mandelstam's 1933 satirical poem "Stalin Epigram," which led to his arrest, is quoted in the novel. The events of the siege of Leningrad were documented extensively through diaries and journals written by residents of the city. One of the most poignant is that of Tanya Savicheva, who died at age 14 in 1944. Her six-page diary lists only the dates and times of various family members' deaths, and is currently displayed at the Museum of Leningrad History in St. Petersburg.
Key Facts about City of Thieves
  • Full Title: City of Thieves
  • When Written: mid-2000s
  • Where Written: New York, California
  • When Published: 2008
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Coming of Age/Bildungsroman; Historical Fiction; Black Comedy
  • Setting: Leningrad (modern-day St. Petersburg) Russia and surrounding areas, January 1942; Sarasota, FL, mid-2000s
  • Climax: When Lev wins the chess match against Abendroth and kills him
  • Antagonist: Nazis, specifically Abendroth; cold and hunger
  • Point of View: Primarily third person, though David and Lev occasionally address the reader in second person

Extra Credit for City of Thieves

Inspiration for Other Media. Bruce Straley, director of the post-apocalyptic video game The Last of Us, credits City of Thieves as a source of major artistic inspiration for the award-winning game.

Cannibalism in Piter. Rates of cannibalism were likely much lower during the siege than one would expect given the circumstances. NKVD records list only around 2000 people arrested for cannibalism, mostly during the first winter of the siege.