In 2008, David Benioff wrote the novel City of Thieves about 2 Russian boys fighting to survive during the German siege of Leningrad during World War II. Now for the first time, this novel is adapted for screen.
The story as introduced is the recollections of a contemporaryRussian Jewish émigré living in Leningrad (which the narrator refers to as “Piter”, the nickname residents use for their city) as his poet father was recently “disappeared” by the Soviet secret police NKVD and his mother and sister have fled the besieged city. Lev is arrested for looting the body of an ejected Luftwaffe pilot. Thrown into a prison, he meets Kolya Vlasov, a young Cossack soldier arrested for deserting his unit. Though just three years older than Lev, Kolya is more cultured and refined. The two are brought to Colonel Grechko of the NKVD who barters with them: if they are able to obtain a dozen eggs for the colonel’s daughter’s upcoming wedding within five days, Lev and Kolya will be given their freedom. If they are unable to find the eggs, a luxury in the starving Leningrad, both will be executed.
During Lev and Kolya’s journey for the eggs, they come across an assorted cast of characters, including cannibals and a group ofSoviet partisans. At the brink of death, Lev and Kolya encounter a small cottage hosting three young girls, who are kept there for the German soldiers to rape at night. Lev and Kolya plot to attack the next Germans to come, and as they start their attack, they meet the Soviet Partisans. Eventually, Lev and Kolya venture into a poultry farm outside the city and allow themselves to be taken prisoner by the Germans. To gain the coveted dozen eggs, Lev must beat a sadistic German officer with the Einsatzgruppen death squads in a game of chess. Lev beats the man at the chess game and then kills him with a knife he has hidden in his boot, losing half his finger in the fight. He, Kolya, and Vika (a female survivor of the partisan group) kill the other guards before escaping. Vika leaves them to find another partisan group and they return to “Piter”. As they approach the city on their way back, Kolya is shot by a Soviet soldier. He is taken to hospital but bleeds to death anyway, while Lev discovers that the colonel had three dozen eggs airlifted in. At the end of the novel Lev is in his apartment when Vika, who had promised to track him down, turns up. She says she does not cook, suggesting they later married, as at the start Lev’s grandson says his grandmother would never cook.