City of Thieves Summary

City of Thieves is a novel in which David, a writer, listens to his Russian grandfather, Lev, narrate a story from his life.

  • Lev is arrested during the Siege of Leningrad. Colonel Grechko orders him and his cellmate, Kolya, to bring him a dozen eggs without using ration cards.
  • On their search, Lev and Kolya are joined by Vika, a Russian partisan, and disguise themselves as prisoners of the Germans.
  • Lev kills the German commanding officer and steals a dozen eggs, but Kolya is fatally shot. When Lev finally brings Colonel Grechko the eggs, the colonel no longer needs them.

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Last Updated on February 1, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 887

David, the narrator of the prologue, begins by telling the reader that his grandfather killed two Germans in a knife fight before the age of eighteen. He knows this, even though he does not recall anyone telling him the story. When David was a child, he lived two blocks away...

(The entire section contains 887 words.)

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David, the narrator of the prologue, begins by telling the reader that his grandfather killed two Germans in a knife fight before the age of eighteen. He knows this, even though he does not recall anyone telling him the story. When David was a child, he lived two blocks away from his grandparents, who have now retired and live in Florida. David lives in Los Angeles writing screenplays about superheroes. He decides that he wants to write about his grandfather instead and travels to Florida to listen to the old man’s stories of his youth.

The rest of the novel is narrated by David’s grandfather, Lev. His story begins during the German siege of Leningrad, on New Year’s Eve 1942. Lev and his friends Vera, Oleg, and Grisha see a German soldier land in the street with a parachute. They find that he is dead and drink from his flask, then run away from the scene when they hear the sound of a car’s engine. Lev’s friends escape, but Lev himself is caught by a Russian soldier and taken to prison, where he shares a cell with a young soldier called Kolya, who stands accused of desertion.

The next day, Colonel Grechko of the secret police gives Lev and Kolya a task to perform. They must find a dozen eggs to make a cake but are not permitted to use ration cards (which the colonel confiscates). First, they find a huge man who says that he has eggs in his apartment, but when they follow him, they discover that he is a cannibal. However, they manage to escape from his apartment unharmed. Lev then finds that the building where he lives has been destroyed, and he stays with Kolya at his friend Sonya’s apartment, where he has to listen to Kolya and Sonya having sex at night. The next morning, Lev and Kolya go to find an old man who is rumored to keep chickens, but when they locate his chicken coop, they discover that he is dead and all the chickens except one are gone. They take this chicken but later discover that they will never get any eggs from it, as it is a rooster, so they make chicken soup instead.

The next day, Lev and Kolya decide to go to Mga, where there is a collective poultry farm. At the end of a day’s journey, they see a farmhouse and look in the windows, trying to establish whether they will be able to stay there for the night. They see four girls dancing, and Kolya soon realizes that these girls are being used as sex slaves by Nazi officers. When he asks why they do not leave, the girls tell him that one of their friends who tried to run away had her feet sawn off as a punishment. Lev and Kolya decide that they will kill the German soldiers, but when the soldiers arrive, they are ambushed and killed outside the house by a group of Russian partisan fighters.

The partisans leave the house to hunt for Abendroth, the German commanding officer, who was not killed in the ambush. The next morning, the Germans attack the partisans and kill their leader, Korsakov. Lev, Kolya, and one of the partisans, called Vika, successfully disguise themselves as members of the group of prisoners who are traveling with the Germans. One of the German officers tests the prisoners to see if they can read and write. Those who are literate are shot, but Lev, Kolya, and Vika all successfully feign illiteracy.

When the Germans and their prisoners are on the march, Vika notices Abendroth’s car in a passing convoy. Kolya engages some of the German soldiers in conversation and wagers their lives and a dozen eggs on Lev beating Abendroth at chess. That night, Lev wins the chess match against Abendroth and then kills him with a knife he has managed to keep concealed. He then escapes out of the window with Kolya and Vika, who have managed to grab the box of eggs as well as the Nazi officers’ guns. Vika kisses Lev and then runs away to join the Russian partisans, while Lev and Kolya return to Leningrad.

When Lev and Kolya reach Leningrad, the soldiers on the barricades fire at them, wounding Kolya. However, when the lieutenant understands that they have been entrusted with a mission by Colonel Grechko, they are quickly taken to the hospital. It soon becomes clear that Kolya is going to die from the gunshot wounds, and Lev does not know how to respond to this, wishing that he could say something lighthearted. Lev then takes the dozen eggs to Colonel Grechko but discovers that he has been given three dozen eggs already. The colonel gives Lev two officers’ ration cards and then tells him not to say whatever it is that he wants to say. Staying quiet, he says, is the secret of survival.

The siege of Leningrad ends in January 1944. More than a year later, in August 1945, Lev is in his apartment reading when he hears a knock at the door. It is Vika, who has brought him a carton of a dozen eggs. Lev says that they should make an omelet, but Vika replies that she does not cook.

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