Benioff's 'City of Thieves' selected for summer reading

“City of Thieves,” a novel by acclaimed author and screenwriter David Benioff about two teens embarking on a near-impossible journey in Soviet Russia, is the Oswego Reading Initiative selection for 2012-13.

Published in 2008, the book revolves around two teenagers, Lev Beniov and Kolya Vlasov, as they search for eggs to make a wedding cake at the request of a high-ranking member of the Soviet secret police during World War II. The two are forced to set out on the dangerous assignment during the Nazi blockade of Leningrad. The novel opens with Beniov living in modern-day Florida, reminiscing about Leningrad.

“It’s not a history book,” said SUNY Oswego Associate Provost Rameen Mohammadi. “It does address a big event where the city was surrounded by the Germans for a long period of time and that is perhaps the reason the eggs were such a critical element in the book.”

On their journey, the two protagonists have to endure harsh weather, looming Nazis and even cannibals.

“People in America might think that getting a dozen eggs would not be a big deal.” Mohammadi said. “But at sub-zero temperatures, the kind of conditions that existed while the city was under siege really made it very difficult for eggs to be available. So it really made it an interesting venture they went on to find them.”

‘X-Men’ and more

David Benioff.Benioff (pictured), a prominent screenwriter, etched his name in Hollywood after writing scripts for “Troy,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “The Kite Runner.” He is executive producer, with D.B. Weiss, of the current HBO series “Game of Thrones.” Benioff’s 2002 debut novel, “The 25th Hour,” was critically acclaimed and adapted as a film by director Spike Lee.

The Oswego Reading Initiative committee, formed in October 2000, annually asks students and other campus community members to read a selected book over the summer. On-campus programs, generally free and open to the public, accompany the selection, and the author often comes to speak. Mohammadi said Benioff is expected to visit campus on April 24, 2013.

“We’ve had young students read the book and love it, and that’s a really big element to us,” Mohammadi said. “We don’t want to select a book where people read a chapter of it, and then put it down. It has to be a good book, and this is a good book.”

Previous ORI selections, such as Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” and Chip Kidd’s “The Learners” deal with a similar centralized theme of life under an oppressive regime or one’s willingness to obey an authority figure. At the same time, those books have also incorporated a coming-of-age story.

“City of Thieves,” published by Viking/Penguin, won a 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and a 2009 Alex Award of the Young Adult Library Services Association.

- 30 -

(Posted: Feb 01, 2012)