City of Thieves by David Benioff
Lev and his cellmate Kolya are sent on a mission to find a dozen eggs for the wedding cake of a powerful colonel’s daughter in a harsh Soviet winter during WWII.
Book Club Party Ideas for City of Thieves
Eggs and a chess board were the two things I first thought of when deciding on decorations for a book club party for City of Thieves. The mission for a dozen eggs saves Lev and Kolya from execution, but takes them on a perilous quest exposing them to freezing temperatures, starvation, cannibalism and encounters with the enemy. Chess provides Lev with a welcome diversion and plays a pivotal role in their survival.
The hat Kolya is wearing on the front cover of the book always catches my eye. Here are a few Russian hats you can accessorize with at your book club party for City of Thieves.
Lev and Kolya get into a discussion (one of their many discussions during their trek through the countryside) about whether Shostakovich plagiarized Mahler. Here is a sampling of each of their music so you can decide for yourself.
Book Club Menu for City of Thieves
When David goes to his grandparents house in Florida to get his grandfather’s story of the war, they drink homemade black currant vodka (page 3). If you are able to find black currants at your grocery store or grow them yourself, here is a video on how to make this flavored vodka. According to the video, the vodka will be ready in 3 months so be sure you give yourself plenty of time!
Lev recalls eating buttered bread, potato dumplings and sausages before the war (page 7). After the war began, a quarter of an onion and rock hard, sawdust flavored bread was considered a decent meal.
Russian Potato Dumplings, called vareniki, are mashed potatoes wrapped with dough and boiled. They are often served with sour cream.
I went to the only Russian market in town, located across the city, to try to find some Russian sausage. The Russian woman behind the impressive meat counter showed me something that looked like bologna, then salami. She then asked her son to help translate. I again asked “I would like the kind of sausage that they eat in Russia” “Ah, yes” he said. And showed me several varieties….all Polish. The same sausage chilling in the meat case at the store 1/4 mile away from my house. Oh well, he did give me some good tips on how to prepare it including making cross marks before cooking. When I got home I did some research (ie google) and found that what I should have asked for is kolbasa, which is the Russian term for the sausage better known in my part of the world as kielbasa.
At the center of this story is the quest to find a dozen eggs so the colonel’s daughter can have a cake for her wedding. Ten eggs were needed for the cake but the colonel wanted 2 extra just in case. I found a Russian Sponge Cake recipe, called biskvit, that is made with 10 eggs from Natasha’s Kitchen. This is a Russian sponge cake that is drizzled with a wine syrup and frosted with a cream cheese icing. I highly recommend this cake!
Here are some other recipe ideas for a book club party for City of Thieves by David Benioff:
- When Lev and Kolya obtained a chicken, which they nicknamed Darling, they had hoped it would lay eggs. When they found out it was not possible they made a Darling soup with potato, onion and plenty of salt (page 94).
- When Lev and Kolya came across the girls in the house in the forest, they ate brown bread and baked potatoes (page 126).
- Library candy was “made from tearing the covers off books, peeling off the binding glue, boiling it down and reforming it into bars you could wrap in paper. The stuff tasted like wax, but there was protein in the glue, protein kept you alive, and the city’s books were disappearing like the pigeons.” (page 52) I couldn’t figure out how to make a palatable version of this candy, but I wanted to include it in case you wanted to give it a try.
Book Club Resources
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 4.18 stars (14463 ratings)|
|Amazon: 4.5 stars (351 ratings)|
|LibraryThing: 4.18 stars (156 ratings)|
|My Rating: 5 stars. The atrocities that Lev and Kolya encountered were felt even more acutely because of the seeming simplicity of their mission…to find a dozen eggs. The description of how cold they were made my bones ache. The only thing that detracted from my enjoyment of the novel was the strong language, but it was still a 5 star read for me.|
Discussion Questions for City of Thieves by David Benioff
- Did this story present a side of WWII that you were unfamiliar with? Did it change your view about the war? How?
- How did the older Lev and his wife compare to their younger selves? Did they still have the same characteristics they had when they were younger?
- Do you think the Russian girls were better off leaving the house despite what they had to endure while they were at the house?
- There are many horrific occurrences in this book including cannibalism and starvation, but at the same time there is humor. Do you think David Benioff did a good job of balancing these emotions?
- Which part of the book was the hardest to read about?
- What do you think drew Lev to Vika?
- Although David Benioff’s parent are neither from Russia and, as far as he knew, have never been to Russia, the introduction chapter parallels David Benioff’s real life. What are some of the similarities? See the information about the author below to learn more about David Benioff.
Purchase City of Thieves at your favorite bookseller
|David Benioff worked as a nightclub bouncer in San Francisco, a radio DJ in Wyoming and an English teacher/wrestling coach in Brooklyn before selling his first novel, The 25th Hour, in 2000.He later wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee’s adaptation of Hour starring Edward Norton and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. In 2005, Viking Press published Benioff’s collection of short stories, When the Nines Roll Over.Benioff’s screenwriting credits include Troy (2004), directed by Wolfgang Petersen, and Stay (2005), directed by Marc Forster, and The Kite Runner (2007). Jim Sheridan produced Benioff’s screenplay Brothers, and Hugh Jackman reprised his role as the clawed mutant in Benioff’s Wolverine. Viking published his most recent novel, City of Thieves, in May 2008.Benioff is married to actress Amanda Peet; the couple has one daughter, Frances Pen. From Goodreads|
Other Works by Author and Recommended Reading
Two of the books David Benioff used as research for City of Thieves is The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad by Harrison Salisbury and Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte. David Benioff’s other novels include The 25th Hour and When the Nines Roll.
Personal Insights, Favorite Quotes, etc…
Searching the internet to find out more about Russia, I stumbled upon this collection of photographs that are called Russia in Color, A Century Ago. These photographs were taken before the time setting in the City of Thieves, but I thought they were so beautiful, I wanted to share them with you.
Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for City of Thieves? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.
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