City of Thieves
Documenting his grandparents' experiences during the siege of Leningrad, a young writer learns his grandfather's story about how a military deserter and he tried to secure pardons by gathering hard-to-find ingredients for a powerful colonel's daughter's wedding cake.
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Authors often use a short prologue to frame important information about the plot or the characters in a novel. Read this prologue carefully and consider what we learn about the grandfather, who is the central character in the story that follows.
Foreshadowing -- a look ahead to what will appear in the plot -- is a good way to keep a reader interested. Here, the reader learns the year of the action and some significant plot points.
Learn more about the author David Benioff with this link. He's written some interesting movies and television shows in addition to his novels. (This annotation contains a link)
Leningrad, the Neva river, and the Kirov apartment building are all geographic anchors that help build the setting as the novel begins. Below is an image of the river as it flows through part of Leningrad. (This annotation contains a link)
How does their conversation illustrate the varied viewpoints of a 40 year old mother and a 17 year old boy? Discuss what we already know about the narrator in light of these details.
The narrator seeks the "Meaning" of his life. An active reader should also seek the deeper meaning, or central theme, of the text. View this video for some insights on finding the theme. (This annotation contains a video)
What literary term is used in the phrase "falling like an angel cast from heaven"?
How does a metronome sound? See one in action in this video clip. (This annotation contains a video)
Writers use imagery -- descriptions which appeal to the senses -- to bring their scenes to life. This video gives a definition and applications. (This annotation contains a link)
As a young soldier, the narrator fears many things while trying to appear brave. What does he mean when he says, "If you broke the law and you were caught, you were dead"?
Here is an image of this prison. (This annotation contains an image)
Some Jewish people keep kosher which means excluding pork (among other foods) from their diet.
These two characters just had an interesting conversation. The conversation revealed some of their similarities and differences. List three similarities and three differences between these two young men.
Here's an image of this bridge. (This annotation contains an image)
This group -- a precursor to the KGB -- committed many crimes against the Russian people. (This annotation contains a link)
Use the Define feature and read the defintion for incongruous. Which of the following words is an antonym (word opposite in meaning) of incongruous as used here?
This simile -- a comparison that uses like or as -- helps emphasize his extreme thirst.
Although we get some additional details about the narrator's father here, it's still unclear what happened. What are your theories? What are your unanswered questions?
Ration cards are vouchers for certain categories of food. When food was scarce, residents were limited to certain products. (This annotation contains an image)
The colonel makes a deal with the two young men. If they accomplish the task, they will escape punishment. What is the deal?
What do you think of Kolya's advice about romance? What does he mean when he says "calculated neglect"?
Nevsky Prospekt is the main street in this city. These images show this part of the city in a few historical periods. (This annotation contains a link)
Dialogue can help a story advance, bring about insights to characters, and provide a point of interest for the reader. (This annotation contains a link)
To what does Fritz refer?
The wartime conditions have impacted every person in the city, regardless of social or economic class. Summarize the current conditions and consider their impact on children.
As described in this paragraph, Kolya is a very unique person with a strong personality. Write a few sentences about another character from literature who has similar qualities.
Why do you think there are so many stories about eggs? What do these stories suggest about wartime conditions?
Andrei Zhdanov was a Soviet political leader who headed the Bolshevik Party.
Carefully consider this paragraph before reading the rest of this chapter. Pay attention to the physical description of this character.
What is library candy?
Here's a similar poster from this time period. (This annotation contains an image)
Take a closer look at the imagery on this page. Select several words or phrases which stand out to you. Record three or four of the words and phrases and why you think the author focused on these visual clues.
These shocking images are important to understanding the harsh conditions in the city. Cannibalism was isolated but did exist, demonstrating the desperation for food sources.
The graphic nature of this scene emphasizes the growing bravery of the main character. Think of another literary character who exhibits similar qualities of maturity and fortitude in the face of difficult events. Write three to five sentences about your chosen character.
Active readers pay attention to how writers use tone and mood. As the novel continues, think about the writer's use of language and its impact on these two important terms. (This annotation contains a video)
A direct comparison that does not use the words "like" or "as" is called a metaphor.
In light of this debate, how might Koyla define a hypocrite?
Describe Lev's reaction to the destruction of his former home. Include three details from the text to support your points.
Lev does not give the correct information about where he slept the night before. He comments, "These people were strangers. Why burden them with the truth?" What do his words mean? Why does he make this decision?
What might be different about the novel if told from a different point of view? (This annotation contains a video)
Besides his insecurity about his Jewish "looks," for what other reasons is being Jewish in this time and place difficult for Lev?
With the idea that "there's no time for grieving", one main theme is being explored. Continue to pay attention to the broader lessons in the novel. (This annotation contains a link)
Eugene Onegin is a novel, written in verse, by Alexander Pushkin. It is considered one of the classics of Russian literature.
Here, the reader learns about how Lev changed after the police took his father away. What do you learn about Lev and his approach to life on this page?
"Let the dead bury the dead" is a common phrase attributed to the gospel of Luke in the Bible. What does it mean in this context? What does it mean in general?
Some of the minor characters are given names while others are not. Why do you think the author chose to name Ruslan and Vadim?
The Siege of Leningrad lasted almost two years. First person perspectives of the experience can be found on this website. (This annotation contains a link)
Images of death are common in this novel. This reference to the Grim Reaper is particularly haunting. (This annotation contains an image)
This allusion -- a reference to another literary work -- shows the education level and intellectual interests of these characters. This image of her is from a movie version of the novel War and Peace. (This annotation contains an image)
Pay attention to how Koyla's realization marks a turning point for their relationship. Why do you think Lev says, "But don't ever tell me to be proud of my father"?
Reading Quiz, Chapters 1 to 9
Before turning the page, make a prediction about why they are going to Mga.
If going on a journey, sitting in silence for a few minutes before leaving the house is a Russian superstition.
Use the Define feature to learn the meaning of ludicrous. What word is an antonym -- or word opposite in meaning -- to ludicrous?
Gogol is a particularly important reference to Russian literature at this time. (This annotation contains a link)
Based on the hints at several points in the novel, what possibly happened in 1812?
The overall pacing in this novel is very interesting. As the young men move somewhat quickly toward a new setting, keep in mind the importance of pacing. (This annotation contains a video)
Describe the shift in imagery as Chapter 12 begins. How does this new setting impact Lev?
Propoganda involves spreading messages via flyers, posters, radio content, and the like that attempt to persuade people to think a certain way about an armed conflict. During the war, both sides would use various means to reach out to citizens in an effort to shift their thinking.
Sheol is a Hebrew word which means pit or abyss.
Why does he say that "a twisted ankle was certain death now"?
Why do you think Koyla cuts the dog's throat? What is your reaction to this scene?
How do you think the boys are impacted by being away from their families? Compare one or both of the characters to another literary character who is seperated or estranged from their parents.
The information on this page highlights some of the strengths of historical fiction. Because much of the action and the identity of the characters are based in reality, the author can explore the factual reasons behind various conflicts. It is interesting to consider the ideologies that both sides espoused during the conflict.
Use the Define feature to discover the meaning of admonish. Which word is the best antonym, or word opposite in meaning?
This is one of the most prominent rallying cries of the Community Party. The phrase first appeared in the Communist Manifesto.
The house stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the scenery. It's well lit, offers warmth, and likely food. It also poses danger as it is likely that German soldiers have commandeered the home for their use.
How do the luxury items listed on this page create a contrast with the everyday imagery? Which image do you find the most compelling?
Eddie Rosner was a popular Jazz musician from Berlin. His records sold well just prior to the start of the war. (This annotation contains a video)
What has the narrator finally realized? How does his realization show that he is growing and maturing, even over the course of just a few days?
The Winter Palace was the main residence of the Russian monarchs. (This annotation contains an image)
These killing squads targeted civilians, especially Jewish ones, in various cities. This article from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is well detailed. (This annotation contains a link)
Zoya's story illustrates the cruelty of the soldiers. It also provides insight to why the young girls feel trapped in their situation. Imagine this chapter if told entirely from the perspective of one of the girls. How do you think the chapter would be different?
The statement about bricks has an interesting connection to symbolism. Consider what a brick might represent in light of the personality of the city residents as well as the physical destruction which surrounds them. (This annotation contains a video)
What does Lev fear? List some of the things that enter his mind when he is facing this highly dangerous situation.
Here's an image of this type of vehicle. (This annotation contains an image)
What is a hero? What is a coward? As Lev experiences and survives another tense moment, his mind is racing about this question. Discuss his definition.
Partisan fighters formed loose militias to create more resistance to German advances. It was actually quite common for women to join these units and to fight alongside men.
Below is an image of female, Russian snipers during World War II. (This annotation contains an image)
Discuss Lev's statement: "I've been afraid for so long I can spot the fear in other people before they know it's there."
The Young Pioneers is a Communist Party group that was organized for children and teens. The posted below is an advertisement for the group. (This annotation contains an image)
Damascus steel knives are noted for their uniqueness. (This annotation contains an image)
Why do the partisans want to travel to Novoye Koshkino?
Based on the details on this page, predict what happens to the girls.
Use the Define feature to find a defintion for homage. What word is the best antonym, or word opposite in meaning, to homage?
This representation of Kolya shows important details about the author's character development. Lev's words help the reader see a more round figure in Kolya. (This annotation contains a video)
What does the "Einsatz are hunting us" mean?
This chapter has some interesting imagery in terms of the contrast between dark and light. Pay attention to the single images and the overall combination of images as you read. (This annotation contains a video)
What do you think the title The Courtyard Hound means? Why?
Here's an interesting connection to this title. (This annotation contains a link)
Reading Quiz, Chapters 10 to 18
This question serves to unite these two main characters in a common thought. Amid all of the violence and fear, they are two deep thinkers who want to understand the world around them.
Here's an image of the edelweiss insignia. (This annotation contains an image)
Why hasn't Lev said anything for several hours?
This conversation underscores two different views of the value of human life in light of the war. Write five to seven sentences that explain the two viewpoints.
What is the best replacement for decipher in this sentence?
Yid is short for Yiddish. Yiddish people are of Jewish descent.
Do you understand why the prisoners were divided and why some of them were killed? If so, explain why. If not, what are some of your unanswered questions?
Siebert Tarrasch was a famous German chess player. He encountered antisemtism as well.
The Germans occupied Estonia during World War II only after it had originally been invaded by the Russians. (This annotation contains a link)
This act of kindness and the information about her life before the war help the reader understand Vika much more fully.
Why was Markov's accuser dead?
For what reasons does Kolya think that Vika is an NKVD member?
Cretinism is an actual physical condition which causes deformities. It can also be used to simply mean idiot. In current day, it is considered a derogatory word.
Mein Kampf is the title of the autobiographical manifesto written by Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party. (This annotation contains a link)
What are some reasons that Kolya would take this bet?
The author very carefully desribes the room and the commander. Pay attention to the physical set up of the room and the details about Abendroth himself.
Abendroth is obviously an intelligent person. At this moment, it seems as if the three friends have made a miscalculation. How do Kolya, Lev, and Vika regain the upper hand?
Of course, flipping a coin is always a fifty-fifty game of chance. But flipping a coing with Nazi symbols on it is also quite ironic. (This annotation contains a video)
Can you recall Zoya's story? Explain how this story would serve as additional motivation to kill Abendroth.
A tourniquet can help stop blood flow when tied in a strategic location. They are effectively used on arms or legs. (This annotation contains an image)
As Lev reviews the two stabbings and their escape, what does he say made him act and what does he say made him proud?
Where is Vika going and why?
Pavlov's dogs responded to an experiment with consistency as described in this article. (This annotation contains a link)
Why do you think Kolya makes the distinction between dogs and hounds?
What explanation did the soldiers give for shooting a person on their side?
Here's an image of the T-34 tank. The fact that the factory is still in operation is a positive sign for this part of the city. (This annotation contains an image)
Kolya's "last words" are very interesting. Discuss what you think he means.
Consider the amount and quality of food in contrast to the lack in the previous chapters. How might Lev have felt as he was standing among the bounty of supplies?
What does the colonel mean when he says, "And that, my friend, is the secret to living a long life."
As this chapter begins, three years have passed. Pay attention to the details which show how the city has begun to return to its former glory.
Reading Quiz, Chapters 19 to 27
What are your thoughts on the ending? Was it surprising or expected?