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The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo
Stephen Galloway
235 pages

She knows that twenty-two people died here and a multitude were injured, will not walk or see or touch again. Because they tried to buy bread. A small decision. Nothing to think about. You're hungry, and come to this place where maybe they will have some bread to buy. ... And then some men on the hills send a bomb through the air to kill you. For them, it was probably just one more bomb in a day of many. Not notable all. (p. 82)

The siege of Sarajevo took place between April 1992 and February 1996, killing approximately 10,000 people. The city was repeatedly shelled, and snipers took up posts in the surrounding hills, firing on unsuspecting victims. Following the May, 1992 bombing of a bakery, a local cellist played Albinoni's Adagio in G minor (listen here), every day for twenty-two days, in memory of the dead. Each day he would quietly take his place in the street, putting his own life at tremendous risk. The title character of this novel is based on that cellist. Other characters include Arrow, a young woman caught up in the fighting, and sent to protect the cellist from snipers; Dragan, struggling to survive after sending his wife and son to safety in Italy; and Kenan, a young husband and father who routinely traverses the dangerous city streets to get water for his family and an elderly neighbor. None of these characters know each other, but their stories are loosely intertwined around the cellist.

The real power of this book was in its portrayal of war-torn Sarajevo, and the impact of the struggle for survival on its people. Kenan put himself in grave danger to fetch water, and during his journey across town, he imagined a better time for his family where they will once again be able to visit restaurants and go on long walks eating ice cream. Dragan's story centered on one particular day where he attempted to cross a street on his way to the bakery. He was paralyzed with fear of the snipers who had set their sights on the street that afternoon. And then there was Arrow, who became involved in the conflict after losing her own family. She also lost both her youth and her happiness. Each character's life was changed irrevocably: food shortages took a toll on their bodies, and frequent contact with death shattered their spirits.

Every time I read a book like The Cellist of Sarajevo, I wonder what it is about humankind that makes us do such things to one another. ( )



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 7th, 2009 07:10 am (UTC)
I loved this too
I gave this book an 'A' when I read it too - was magnificent :)
Mar. 7th, 2009 07:13 am (UTC)
Oooh - I don't like being anonymous :) The previous comment was left by me:

Mar. 7th, 2009 11:10 am (UTC)
Thanks for stopping by, Sally!
Mar. 7th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
So glad you liked this book, Laura (but then I knew you would!). I was so touched by this slim book - and like you, I put it down wondering about humanity.
Mar. 8th, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
I just re-read your review, Wendy (I intentionally waited until I'd finished the book and my review). Of course our thoughts & reactions are quite similar. What a moving book this was ... thank you!
Mar. 8th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
You are so welcome - I love being able to share a great book with you, Laura. Here is my review. I also wait to read reviews until after I've formulated my own thoughts :)
Mar. 8th, 2009 01:00 am (UTC)
This book made quite an impression on me. I am so glad I read it. I am glad you found it to be a worthwhile read too, Laura. Great review.
Mar. 8th, 2009 01:42 am (UTC)
Thanks Wendy! Yes, it was a pretty amazing book, packing a lot into a relatively short work.
Mar. 8th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)

Every time I read a book like The Cellist of Sarajevo, I wonder what it is about humankind that makes us do such things to one another.

I know exactly what you mean, and that was my thought about the book too.
Simply excellent.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )