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The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo

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Overview

Sarajevo in the 1990s is a hellish place. The ongoing war devours human life, tears families apart, and transforms even banal routines, such as acquiring water, into life-threatening expeditions. Day after day, a cellist stations himself in the midst of the devastation, defying the ever-present snipers to play tributes to victims of a massacre. The true story of a cellist’s resistance helps to form this pivotal event in Steven Galloway’s extraordinary novel. Against this, the author touchingly describes three ordinary townspeople and their efforts to retain their humanity, sanity, and autonomy as war takes hold of their lives.

This bestselling novel is immediate, vivid, and deeply affecting on audio, fully immersing the listener in the havoc of war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781094015484
Publisher: Naxos
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.00(d)

About the Author

Steven
Galloway

teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, which was an IndieBound and a Barnes and Noble Discover selection and has been chosen for community reads across the country.


Gareth Armstrong is a professional actor and stage performer with a number of appearances in cult-classic television favorites to his credit, including Doctor Who: The
Masque of Mandragora
, Witchcraft, Star One, and Hammer House of Horror, in which he played Dr. Melburg.

Read an Excerpt

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Epigraph

 
one

arrow

kenan

dragan

 
two

kenan

arrow

dragan

arrow

kenan

dragan

arrow

kenan

 
three

dragan

arrow

kenan

arrow

dragan

 
four

kenan

dragan

arrow

 
Afterword

A preview of Steven Galloway's new novel THE CONFABULIST

RIVERHEAD BOOKS

a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. New York

2008

RIVERHEAD BOOKS Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014,
Copyright © 2008 by Steven Galloway

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
eISBN : 978-1-594-48986-0

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

For Lara

The Sarajevo in this novel is only one small part of the real city and its people, as imagined by the author. This is above all else a work of fiction.

You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

— LEON TROTSKY

the cellist

It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expanded in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There was a moment before impact that was the last instant of things as they were. Then the visible world exploded.

In 1945, an Italian musicologist found four bars of a sonata’s bass line in the remnants of the firebombed Dresden Music Library. He believed these notes were the work of the seventeenth-century Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni, and spent the next twelve years reconstructing a larger piece from the charred manuscript fragment. The resulting composition, known as Albinoni’s Adagio, bears little resemblance to most of Albinoni’s work and is considered fraudulent by most scholars. But even those who doubt its authenticity have difficulty denying the Adagio’s beauty.

Nearly half a century later, it’s this contradiction that appeals to the cellist. That something could be almost erased from existence in the landscape of a ruined city, and then rebuilt until it is new and worthwhile, gives him hope. A hope that, now, is one of a limited number of things remaining for the besieged citizens of Sarajevo and that, for many, dwindles each day.

And so today, like every other day in recent memory, the cellist sits beside the window of his second-floor apartment and plays until he feels his hope return. He rarely plays the Adagio. Most days he’s able to feel the music rejuvenate him as simply as if he were filling a car with gasoline. But some days this isn’t the case. If, after several hours, this hope doesn’t return, he will pause to gather himself, and then he and his cello will coax Albinoni’s Adagio out of the firebombed husk of Dresden and into the mortar-pocked, sniper-infested streets of Sarajevo. By the time the last few notes fade, his hope will be restored, but each time he’s forced to resort to the Adagio it becomes harder, and he knows its effect is finite. There are only a certain number of Adagios left in him, and he will not recklessly spend this precious currency.

It wasn’t always like this. Not long ago the promise of a happy life seemed almost inviolable. Five years ago, at his sister’s wedding, he’d posed for a family photograph, his father’s arm slung behind his neck, fingers grasping his shoulder. It was a firm grip, and to some it would have been painful, but to the cellist it was the opposite. The fingers on his flesh told him that he was loved, that he had always been loved, and that the world was a place where above all else the things that were good would find a way to burrow into you. Though he knew all of this then, he would give up nearly anything to be able to go back in time and slow down that moment, if only so he could more clearly recall it now. He would very much like to feel his father’s hand on his shoulder again.

He can tell today won’t be an Adagio day. It has been only a half hour since he sat down beside the window, but already he feels a little bit better. Outside, a line of people wait to buy bread. It’s been over a week since the market’s had any bread to buy, and he considers whether he might join them. Many of his friends and neighbors are in line. He decides against it, for now. There’s still work to do.

It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expanded in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There was a moment before impact that was the last instant of things as they were. Then the visible world exploded.

When the mortars destroyed the Sarajevo Opera Hall, the cellist felt as if he were inside the building, as if the bricks and glass that once bound the structure together had become projectiles that sliced and pounded into him, shredding him beyond recognition. He was the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. That was what he knew how to be. He made the idea of music an actuality. When he stepped onstage in his tuxedo he was transformed into an instrument of deliverance. He gave to the people who came to listen what he loved most in the world. He was as solid as the vise of his father’s hand.

Now he doesn’t care whether anyone hears him play or not. His tuxedo hangs in the closet, untouched. The guns perched on the hills surrounding Sarajevo have dismantled him just as they have the Opera Hall, just as they have his family home in the night while his father and mother slept, just as they will, eventually, everything.

The geography of the siege is simple. Sarajevo is a long ribbon of flat land surrounded on all sides by hills. The men on the hills control all the high ground and one peninsula of level ground in the middle of the city, Grbavica. They fire bullets and mortars and tank shells and grenades into the rest of the city, which is being defended by one tank and small handheld weapons. The city is being destroyed.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Cellist of Sarajevo"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Steven Galloway.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“An exquisite novel of war and loss...The book feels vividly created...an elegant and ever fragile work of art.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“Compelling.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Elegant.”
Los Angeles Times

“Indelible imagery and heartbreaking characters.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Tense and haunting.”
Publishers Weekly

“Though the setting is the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, this gripping novel transcends time and place. It is a universal story, and a testimony to the struggle to find meaning, grace, and humanity, even amid the most unimaginable horrors.” —Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

“I cannot imagine a lovelier, more beautifully wrought book about the depravity of war as The Cellist of Sarajevo. Each chapter is a brief glimpse at yet another aspect of the mind, the heart, the soul—altogether Galloway gives us fine, deep notes of human music which will remain long after the final page.” —ZZ Packer, author of Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

“A grand and powerful novel about how people retain or reclaim their humanity when they are under extreme duress.” —Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi

“A gripping story of Sarajevo under siege.” —J. M. Coetzee, author of Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year

“Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo is a wonderful story, a tribute to the human spirit in the face of insanity.” —Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland and Paradise Alley

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

One of the Washington Post’s Best Books of 2008.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is a gripping portrait of a city under siege, the small acts of humanity that come to renew it, and from the ashes, the rising, redemptive grace notes of one musician.

After witnessing a shelling that takes the lives of twenty-two civilians outside his window, a man decides he will play at the site of the attack for twenty-two days in tribute, to mark their deaths in a city bombarded relentlessly by surprise attacks and sniper fire.

Elsewhere in the city, a young man leaves home to gather clean drinking water for his family—a perilous mission that forces him to weigh the value of generosity against selfish survivalism.

A third man, older, sets out in search of bread and distraction, and instead runs into a friend from the past who reminds him of the city he has lost, and the man he once was.

As each is drawn into the web and center of the mournful adagio, a female sniper holds the fate of the cellist in her hands. While she protects him with her life, her own army prepares to challenge the kind of person she has become.

A novel of great intensity and power, The Cellist of Sarajevo is a testament to the endurance of the spirit and the subtle ways individuals reclaim their humanity in a time of war.

 


ABOUT STEVEN GALLOWAY

Steven Galloway lives in British Columbia and teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia.
 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • What effect does the constant confrontation of war and occupation have on each narrator? Does suffering, violence and loss ever become normalized for them? What is it like to live in this kind of anarchy—especially when symbols of peace and power have been extinguished (the eternal flame from WWII, the Kosovo Olympic stadium now used as a burial ground)? And what does it mean to have the color, beauty, and vibrancy of music and flowers (left behind for the cellist) introduced?
     
  • How has life changed in the city since the arrival of the men on the hills? What resources, both physical and mental, are the four characters in the book using to help them survive? What is involved in day-to-day living? How would you fare under these same conditions—and what would be your greatest challenges?
     
  • Each chapter in the novel is told through the lens of one of the four main characters (including the cellist) in the story. How does this strategy color our reading? How might our experience be different if told in first person? If it were told in a more journalistic way?
     
  • How do each of the narrators (Arrow, Dragan, Kenan) view their fellow citizens? How do they each look upon their struggles, choices, and their attitudes? What makes them not give up on each other? Does Kenan’s classification of the “three types of people” (144) ring true to you?
     
  • Do you think the author intends for the reader to be sympathetic to Arrow’s life and career trajectory? What prevents (or encourages) us from fully engaging, trusting, relating to her? Do you think war forces everyone to compromise something in themselves—their attitude, their moral compass?
     
  • What are the goals of “the men on the hill”? What exactly is it they are trying to destroy? What do they come to represent for the main characters—and what separates them from Arrow?
     
  • In the beginning of the novel, Dragan is said to avoid his friends and coworkers because “the destruction of the living is too much for him,” Arrow assumes a new name to distance herself from her role as a sniper, and Kenan takes refuge in his new ritual of obtaining water for his family. How have the three used rituals as ways to cope with their fear of what is happening in the city? At the end of the book, do you feel that their experiences of the cellist’s performances have changed how they deal with the danger around them? In what way?
     
  • What force does music have upon the war torn state—and what powers does it have over the lives of the characters? (For Kenan, Arrow, and Dragan? For the cellist himself?) Do you find yourself relating to the power of the cellist’s performances? Are there parallel moments in your life where you also experienced such sudden awakening, or realization?
     
  • “Sarajevo was a great city for walking.” How does the mapping of the landscape—the physical and psychic layout of the city—affect the narrative? How does our intimacy with this map affect our experience of the story?
     
  • In one of his early chapters, Kenan is particularly disturbed by the interruption and shelled state of the tram’s service (“The war will not be over until the trams run again”) and the destruction of the National Library (“the most visible manifestation of a society he was proud of”)—representing for him basic civilization. What signs, services, and signals do you consider pillars of civilization?
     
  • Why do you think the sniper avoids taking his shot at the cellist—especially when he has such ample opportunity?
     
  • Why does Dragan take such drastic measures to prevent the dead man’s body from being filmed by the journalist? What does the author suggest through this as a lesson for the living? What are we to do to prevent the horror of war from becoming commonplace, something to tune our televisions out from?
     
  • Were you surprised by Arrow’s final act of protest? Do you think she was ultimately able to reclaim herself, her identity? Do you think she succeeded?