The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo

by Steven Galloway

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594489860
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date: 05/15/2008
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.44(w) x 7.14(h) x 0.91(d)
Age Range: 18 - 13 Years

About the Author

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

Read an Excerpt

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.

The cellist doesn't know what is about to happen. Initially the impact of the shell won't even register. For a long time he'll stand at his window and stare. Through the carnage and confusion he'll notice a woman's handbag, soaked in blood and sparkled with broken glass. He won't be able to tell whom it belongs to. Then he'll look down and see he has dropped his bow on the floor, and somehow it will seem to him that there's a great connection between these two objects. He won't understand what the connection is, but the feeling that it exists will compel him to undress, walk to the closet, and pull the dry cleaner's plastic from his tuxedo.

He will stand at the window all night and all through the next day. Then, at four o'clock in the afternoon, twenty-four hours after the mortar fell on his friends and neighbors while they waited to buy bread, he will bend down and pick up his bow. He will carry his cello and stool down the narrow flight of stairs to the empty street. The war will go on around him as he sits in the small crater left at the mortar's point of impact. He'll play Albinoni's Adagio. He'll do this every day for twenty-two days, a day for each person killed. Or at least he'll try. He won't be sure he will survive. He won't be sure he has enough Adagios left.

The cellist doesn't know any of this now, as he sits at his window in the sun and plays. He isn't yet aware. But it's already on its way. It screams downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expands in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There is a moment before impact that is the last instant of things as they are. Then the visible world explodes.

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?

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The Cellist of Sarajevo (DO NOT ORDER - Canadian Edition) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 105 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read many books, and I don't write a review about many, but this book was amazing. it tells the story of people's life during the Siege so well, and cover only little parts but tells you enough so that you can imagine what else it was like. I am bosnian and my family went through this war. My relatives say it catches enough grief that anymore would haunt you for a while.
EleymBeigh More than 1 year ago
The Cellist of Sarajevo tunes a melancholy story of four civilians thrust in a callous war orchestrated by invisible snipers - "the men in the hills." Once a city of concord and delightful memories, Sarajevo is now a corrupted city plagued by death, poverty, and fear. Weaved together are the stories of a Sarajevan sniper, father, baker, and musician. Each make sacrifices and take murderous risks that could cost them their lives for their families and the love of their city. Galloway threads momentous parallels and thought-provoking questions that would give you pause should you put yourself in these characters' positions. He forces you to ask yourself, "Would I do the same thing in this situation? What would I do differently?" Imbued with fulgurate language and word choice, Galloway illustrates the art of stitching yourself together in times of trial, keeping faith in a ramshackle city, and clutching memories to the heart like a worn photograph in remembrance.
regina77004 More than 1 year ago
In the afterword Galloway says " At four o'clock in the afternnon on May 27, 1992, during the Siege of Sarajevo, several mortar shells struck a group of people waiting to buy bread behind the market on Vase Miskina. Twenty-two people were killed and at least seventy were wounded. For the next twenty-two days Vedran Smailovic, a renowned local cellist, played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor at the site in honor of the dead. His actions inspired this novel." During the Sieg of Sarajevo, which lasted four years, those who remained were left to fight for survival. Fighting meant making it one more day. Routine activities such as access to fresh water became an arduous, day long journey always with the prospect that sniper bullets from the hills would strike you down. The Cellist of Sarajevo follows the lives of four people, who day by day, try to live long enough to rebuild Sarajevo back into the city of their memories. All four lives intersect and are affected by the cellist. For some the cellist's music reminds them of the humanity that once existed both in themselves and in the city, for some it simply resurrects the comfort of memories from times past, and for others it is a reminder that all one can do is all that he/she can do, and that means something. This is a beautiful story that illustrates the importance of commitment to ideals and to community.
lesleynicol on LibraryThing 19 days ago
The siege of Sarajevo took place from 5/4/1992 to 29/2/1996; approximately 10000 people were killed by shells which hit the city every day and by gunfire from snipers in the surrounding hills as they went about the vital business of obtaining food and water.The cellist was a symbol of hope for many people as he sat in the square and played each day for 22 days in memory of the 22 people who had been killed there by a bomb. The story is a true story and I found the courage of the people so inspiring.
nancnn2 on LibraryThing 20 days ago
This review refers to an advance copy.This was a moving, haunting story, which in several ways just did not quite live up to its potential. I kept wanting to feel swept up in the characters and their struggles, to feel engrossed in a sense of place. However, it just felt like I was going through the motions; I did not get the sense that I was really "there" with the characters. Perhaps if the author had not tried to compress the story into so short a period of time, a fuller fleshing-out of character and place would have been possible. In the end, I found myself only really engaging with two of the four characters, particularly Dragan's story. In fact, the ending of Dragan's story was so compelling, so beautifully written, I have found myself re-reading it several times. I just wish the entire book had moved me to that extent.
Cigani on LibraryThing 20 days ago
Steven Galloway's The Cessist of Sarajevo is pure poetry. His prose is so beautiful to read that sometimes I would just get lost in the language and have to re-read in order to stay on track with the content. Contrary to what you might think...this is not a flaw, in my opinion. The fact that the plot was thought-provoking and explosive was an added bonus. While war is neither pleasant nor pretty, Galloway captures the beauty that remains in the rubble.
TrishNYC on LibraryThing 20 days ago
From April 5th 1992 to February 29th 1996 the city of Sarajevo was surrounded by the Yugoslav People's Army and bombarded daily by sniper fire, mortar shelling and deaths in the thousands. The Cellist of Sarajevo chronicles the life of four people who are living through the longest siege of a capital city in modern warfare. They go from living regular lives filled with the daily worries and triumphs of normal human existence to fighting for their lives on an almost daily basis. The unnamed cellist had watched as a mortar fell and killed twenty two of his neighbors as they queued up to buy bread. Before the war he had been an accomplished cellist and in a move that is part bravery and part insanity, he chooses to mourn and honor his fallen neighbors by going out daily at 4pm to play Albinoni's adagio in G minor. Albinoni's adagio is a composition that was/is attributed to Tomaso Albinoni and said to have been found in the ruins of a library in Dresden after the city had been firebombed by the allies in WW II. With the cellist's vow to play everyday for twenty two days, the army defending the city receives intelligence that the invading army plans to have him killed by a sniper. They dispatch their own sniper nicknamed Arrow to spot and kill any would be assassins of the cellist. But Arrow is not a mindless drone who follows orders without a conscience. She questions her superiors and eventually finds herself forced to make decisions as to how far she is willing to go in support of "her side". Kenan and Dragan are the other two characters highlighted in the book. They both find themselves making road journeys and choices as to how to continue to survive the war. One heads out to find water for his family and his ungrateful neighbor and the other struggles to get to his job as a baker. With each journey, both face deadly intersections that are constantly being targeted by snipers on the hills. This book is by no means a comprehensive study of the actual siege of Sarajevo. There are many who will complain that it leaves out key incidents of the siege but I do not believe that Galloway ever intended to cover every scintilla of the war. As dark and sad as this tale may be, it offers hope as its final message. At the end of the day it is the humanity of the characters that makes you believe that though the horrors may continue, they have all chosen to live on in whatever way that they can. They will sprint across the street as their heart beats furiously and when they get to the other side without being shot, they will experience a feeling of elation that they have lived to see another day.
jclerch on LibraryThing 20 days ago
The Cellist in Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway, is the best book I have read in years. What makes it so good? First, despite the immense misery heaped on the characters, there is a strong message of hope contained in the book. Second, it is an absorbing account of the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990¿s, as told through the thoughts of the people who lived through it. Finally, it is an excellent story.One of the most important qualities of a story is whether it contains a message of hope. This book, despite its deep immersion into the horrors of war, contains a strong message of hope. While the characters definitely experience moments of despair (who wouldn¿t, having to live through something as horrible as a modern-day siege?), each of the four major characters displays through action a willingness to retain and manifest hope in spite of the horror. Second, Galloway connects his characters and their unfortunate backdrop into an engaging story that leaves the reader wanting to know more about the characters. And while some of the characters demonstrate more continuity in response to the backdrop, others change dramatically when pushed. Humanity is nevertheless affirmed in all of the major characters. Finally, Galloway is an excellent storyteller. He knows when to emphasize detail, and he knows when to make a major push to stitch together his message. Throughout this book, I felt challenged, but I did not feel manipulated. I would recommend it highly.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing 20 days ago
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 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.
mrstreme on LibraryThing 20 days ago
For 22 days in 1992 during the siege of Sarajevo, local cellist Vedran Smailovi¿ played in the spot where a mortar killed 22 people who were standing in line for bread. At any time while he played, he could have been shot by a sniper, but he survived each day, committing a small but significant act of resistance that became the inspiration for Steven Galloway¿s new book, The Cellist of Sarajevo.In this book, Galloway depicted the the lives of three (fictional) Sarajevo residents: Arrow, a sniper with deadly accuracy, sent to protect The Cellist; Kenan, a married father of three who risked his life every five days to get water for his family and neighbor; and Dragan, a man whose wife and son evacuated to Italy, which left him alone and unconnected to his fellow humans. The Cellist was a minor character in the book, but his 22 days of music were what bound these characters¿ stories. For the characters, The Cellist inspired each one to defy the atrocities around them, by doing human tasks, such as removing a body from the street or getting water for a cranky neighbor. By committing these acts, each character proved that while the war raged on, they were committed to being human. To survive the siege, the characters not only had to dodge snipers, but keep the spirit of Sarajevo alive within them.Undoubtedly, Galloway swept the reader into the besieged Sarajevo so that you heard the gunfire and The Cellist¿s music; you saw the shelled buildings and the haggard looks on people¿s faces; you felt the citizens¿ desperation as they looked for food or firewood. Galloway¿s ability to transport readers to this place in modern history made The Cellist of Sarajevo so impactful and unforgettable.Thankfully, Sarajevo is making a comeback, but it¿s important that books like this one are being published so people can learn more about what this city and its citizens endured ¿ and ultimately how their small acts of defiance during the siege laid the groundwork for Sarajevo¿s restoration now. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about how people can rise above the ugliness of the world around us.
suetu on LibraryThing 20 days ago
Steven Galloway¿s spare novel The Cellist of Sarajevo will be haunting me for a long time. I honestly couldn¿t tell you when a work of fiction made me stop and think so hard about the world we live in.As the novels opens, the siege of Sarajevo is underway, and 22 innocent civilians have just died from a shelling attack while they were waiting in line to buy bread. The eponymous cellist watched it all from his window. They were his friends and neighbors. For reasons never explained (and without need of explanation) the unnamed cellist decides he will play an adagio on the spot of the attack for the next 22 days.This small gesture of beauty in the midst of senseless violence and horror makes the man a target. The attackers of the city, described only as ¿the men on the hill¿ will want to make a lesson of him¿though exactly what that lesson is I¿m not sure. The military men defending the city want the cellist protected. They assign that job to the second of four central characters the novel revolves around. She is a sniper, going only by the name Arrow. She was once a happy student at the University, but now she is a weapon in human form. Every day she struggles with her personal moral compass.The third character is Kenan, a mild-mannered husband and father. The gauntlet he runs every few days is the long trek across town to collect fresh water for his family. No one is Sarajevo is safe. Every time they step outside, they are facing death (although staying inside is no safer with buildings being bombed daily). Kenan¿s terror at leaving home is echoed by the fourth character, Dagnan, a baker on the way to work who is literally paralyzed by the prospect of crossing the street. If he crosses the street, will he be shot? If he doesn¿t cross the street, how will he eat?The characters in this novel are living in a world gone mad. And it wasn¿t decades ago. It wasn¿t a third world country. It was barely a 12 years ago in a major European city. I was a young adult at the time, largely ignoring the news. Reading this (mercifully) short, profoundly moving story sent me to the history books trying to understand what this conflict was about. I still don¿t understand. But this novel gave me a new comprehension of what war really means. Galloway brought war into a world very familiar to me. It kept me awake at night. This is a novel that should be read by all thinking people.
almdennis on LibraryThing 20 days ago
Sarajevo sits nestled in a valley with hills all around. I had never heard of Sarajevo until the 1984 winter Olympics were held there. The hills were the venues for skiing, bob sledding, luging and other events. Fast forward 8 years. The hills are now filled with soldiers raining bullets, shells and mortars onto the city nestled in the valley. As the author points out in his afterword, the Siege of Sarajevo was the longest city siege in modern warfare lasting from April 1992 to February 1996. No place in the city was safe; walk out in the streets and you became a target for random snipers; stay inside and hope your home was not hit by random shells or mortars. Basic utilities , water and electricity, didn¿t work and inflation was rampant. People were selling off everything they own so they could buy outrageously priced food. The Cellist of Sarajevo tells the story of four people living in the city and trying to survive. They each cope with the situation in their own way, remembering their lives before the siege and hoping for a life when/if it ends. Despite the grim setting, it is an uplifting story; simple and compelling.
JGoto on LibraryThing 20 days ago
The Cellist of Sarajevo is a poetic and poignant novel set in a city under seige. A cellist watches from his apartment as 22 neighbors, lined up to buy bread, are killed in a blast outside his window. Already numbed by the war, the cellist makes a vow to play Albinoni's Adagio, a piece that symbolizes hope and rebirth, at the site of the massacre each day for 22 days - once for each victim. It is a dangerous act - snipers are rampant in the area - but he knows it the only thing he can do to maintain his humanity. The novel does not focus on the cellist. Instead, it gives us snapshots of the day to day struggle for survival of three other characters. Each is drawn to the spot of the cellist and each, in his own way, rediscovers his own humanity. This short but powerful novel paints a moving picture of life in war-torn Bosnia.
eembooks on LibraryThing 20 days ago
With the backdrop of the Siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996) this novel follows four people from varied backgrounds and totally unknown to each other as they try to survive in a city cut off from all supplies even those necessary for daily living such as food and water. Each morn the loss of their beautiful city which has become filled with bombed out buildings as they try to find meaning in the crossfire of ethnic upheaval and to live with the hope that someday it will all end. The Siege of Sarajevo is viewed as the longest post WWII siege and one in which most of the people were brought to the brink of starvation. Well worth reading.
vpfluke on LibraryThing 20 days ago
This was a captivaing book. It demonstrates that even during the most frightening experiences during war that there can be another side, a difference. In this case, a person simply named the Cellist, feels impelled to memorialize the 22 people killed from a senseless mortar attack by playing Albinoni's famous adagio every day for 22 days. Although the book is fiction, this really did happen during the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990's.The story doesn't really follow the cellist, but three other characters, Arrow, Kenan, and Dragan, as they become transformed throught the fear of being killed by snipers into the possibility of something more. Arrow is a sharp-shooter sniper herself, and we are pulled through her journey, which includes providing cover the cellist. WE follow Kenan as he goes to a distant site to collect water for his family and an ornery neighbor, all the while giving us a tour of Sarajevo, now badly in shambles. Dragan is a former baker, and still has connections with his bakery and with numbers of people with whom he shares experiences, not all good.It is interesting that the book never speaks of the religiou tensions that abounded in Bosnia. Bosnia and Hercegovina does not have a majority of any single major Yugoslav group, Serbs (Eastern Orthodox), Croats (Roman Catholic), and Bosniaks (Muslims speaking Serbian). And they are needed in the story. Human suffering and fear remain the same whatever ethnic group you belong to.An almost searing read.
gypsysmom on LibraryThing 20 days ago
I don¿t remember much about the Bosnian war. I was back at school and having to work hard to get good marks. I hardly watched any television and I read the paper seldom. After the war was over we heard lots about the atrocities that occurred and by that time I was paying attention. But I still don¿t recall hearing much about the Siege of Sarajevo. So, at the very least, this book filled that lack in my knowledge.But it did so much more than that. The title of the book is drawn from a real example. On May 27, 1992 at 4 pm twenty-two people standing in line for bread were killed by mortar shells. The principle cellist for the Sarajevo Symphony, Vedran Smailovic, witnessed this from his apartment. The next day at 4 pm and for 21 consecutive days he put on his tuxedo and went down to the location of the explosion. He played Albinoni¿s Adagio to honour the 22 dead.This book is the story of the cellist but also of three other people living in Sarajevo at the time. Arrow is a sniper. She makes shots that no-one else can make. Her supervisor asks her to protect the cellist by killing anyone the opposing force sends to kill him. Kenan is a father and husband who used to be a clerk before the war took away his workplace. These days he provides for his family as best he can in a city that lacks most basics. Water, that most basic of necessities, requires a long trip across the city and into the hills to the brewery which has a spring in its basement so the water is clean. It¿s a dangerous passage and he can get only 24 liters at a time for his family. This lasts for about 4 days which means that each person in the family gets about 1200 mL a day for drinking and washing and meal preparation. Dragan is an older man who sent his wife and son to Italy just before the blockade went into effect. He stayed behind to look after his apartment (which was subsequently destroyed). He is a baker and still has a job but he¿s living with his sister. To get to the bakery he has to cross an intersection that a sniper regularly targets. He meets up with Emina, a friend of his wife, who has to cross the same intersection.All three of these people have to make difficult decisions about how they conduct their lives now during the war because they know that will impact their lives after the war is over. The cellist provides an example of how to live and for each of them they choose a path that they know they can live with after. Since they are ordinary people their situations spoke meaningfully to me. We might not all be talented musicians that can use our talent to give hope to others but small actions (or non-actions) can be important.Highly recommended.
writestuff on LibraryThing 20 days ago
The Siege of Sarajevo began April 5, 1992 and lasted almost four years. Approximately 10,000 people were killed, and 56,000 wounded - most were civilians. Embedded in these numbers are thousands of personal stories. One of those stories includes Vedran Smailovic, a musician who witnessed 22 of his friends and neighbors killed by a mortar shell while they were waiting to buy bread in May 1992. In response to this horrific event, Smailovic sat in the square where his friends had died and played his cello for 22 days - one day for each life. This small, but significant human response to the war touched Steven Galloway - a Canadian writer who had never been to Sarajevo, but who began to think about hate and the essential ingredients of humanity. The result is The Cellist of Sarajevo - a profoundly moving and universal novel about what it means to be human in the face of atrocity.The Cellist of Sarajevo is the story of four regular people and their response to war and hate. The cellist is the character who unites the story threads. His music is the backdrop to the real stories which Galloway tells in taut, yet simple prose. Kenan is living with his sister and her family - he has managed to send his wife and son away from Sarajevo to safety and he often thinks about what it would be like to leave Sarajevo and join them. In the meantime, he avoids old friends and focuses on his survival - trying to cross an intersection where a sniper waits. Dragan lives with his wife and two small children. He has avoided engaging in the conflict and every four days must go to get water for his family and elderly neighbor - a woman who is unkind, cold, and selfish. Arrow is a young woman who will not acknowledge her real name - the name that represents who she was before the war. She now works as a sniper for the forces within the city. Before the end of the novel, all three will have to decide whether or not they will allow the war to make decisions for them and steal their humanity, or if instead they will reach out to another person and do what is right, even if it means they will not survive.I was moved to tears at the end of this short novel. Galloway writes exquisitely. He shows the reader the simple lives of his characters and defines the essence of what it means to be human. The novel makes the reader wonder what he or she would do faced with similar circumstances. It asks the big questions. As Galloway points out in his short introduction: The themes and characters exist wherever ordinary people find themselves caught in war. Sarajevo could be Lebanon or Chechnya or Iraq or a half-dozen other places.The Cellist of Sarajevo is required reading. Beautifully crafted and heavy with truth, it is one I can highly recommend. Rated 5/5.
loosha on LibraryThing 20 days ago
How does one retain humanity in the midst of war? Carry on, continue to do what one must to survive, but most importantly, continue to reach out to others, keep some semblance of society, some respect. Powerfully written, I felt what it might be like to be there, with bombings and sniper fire a fact of life.
seekingflight on LibraryThing 20 days ago
Sarajevo is a city under siege. Arrow is a sniper asked to protect a cellist who has been playing Albioni¿s Adagio every day at 4pm, once for each of the 22 people to die in a recent mortar attack on a bakery. Other protagonists are simply trying to survive, in a world where getting bread and water for their families means risking their lives. This story was unsettling and distressing in its portrayal of the way in which ordinary lives can be turned upside down like this. For me it was even more unsettling in the way in which it suggested that this abnormality itself can come to feel routine, and routine life before the war can come to feel like simply a dream or fantasy ...
FredB on LibraryThing 20 days ago
This book is set in Sarajevo during the siege in the early 90's. It follows three people, ordinary citizens trying to cope with the absurdity that the place has fallen into. The story loosely revolves around a cellist who decides to play every day for 22 days in order to commemorate some people who were killed in a shelling attack. One of the characters is a sniper assigned to protect him from other snipers. The other two are men trying to get bread and clean water for their families.
cbl_tn on LibraryThing 20 days ago
Steven Galloway's fictional account of the Siege of Sarajevo is at its heart a survival story. Not of physical survival, although the acquisition of basic necessities such as food and clean water consumed the time and energy of two of the Sarajevans who are subjects of the novel. It's about the survival of the human spirit and the triumph of hope over fear. The book's focus on the effects of war on a city and its inhabitants would lend itself well to a community read. It's a short novel that can easily be read in a single evening, and it would be well worth the time. Highly recommended.
thornton37814 on LibraryThing 20 days ago
This is one of those novels that makes one uncomfortable. Here we see the effects of war on the common man -- the cellist who witnesses the deaths of 22 persons outside his home and determines to play the same piece at the same time for 22 days in observance of those deaths, the man on his way to get water, the man who wants to get some bread, and even the young female sniper who is determined to only kill soldiers. Your heart goes out to each of the persons as they must go through extraordinary circumstances to obtain a basic necessity of life. We see how the cellist's actions provide so much hope, if only for a moment, to those inhabiting the city under siege. A powerful account of a tragic part of Eastern European history.
rosalita on LibraryThing 20 days ago
It took me much too long to review this book, but not because I couldn't decide whether I liked it or not. I knew as soon as I started reading this compelling and unusually constructed narrative of the effects of the 1997 siege of Sarajevo on a quartet of the city's citizens that it was one of the finest books I've read in a long time.No, the delay was because as soon as I finished it, I started loaning it out to people who I was pretty sure would love it, too. One of them, Amir, lived in Sarajevo when the siege began. He managed to escape through the tunnel mentioned in the book, and later married a good friend of mine and came to the U.S. I was happy that Amir gave the book a thumbs-up, and even happier that the book led to an absorbing discussion with him and his wife that gave me new insights into both that time and the current situation in Bosnia-Herzegovinia.But enough about that. The narrative of "The Cellist of Sarajevo" is unusually constructed. There are four main characters, and the chapters alternate between their viewpoints. One of the characters is the titular cellist, who reacts to a bombing that killed 22 people waiting in a bread line by vowing to play on the bombing site every day for 22 days. Another character is "Arrow," a female sniper who is assigned to protect the cellist from assassination during his daily concerts. Kenan must make a dangerous trek across the city to fetch fresh water for his family, a journey that involves crossing intersections that are targeted by enemy snipers in the hills surrounding Sarajevo. Dragan is making a similar journey, trying to reach his workplace where he knows he can get a free meal ¿ a precious commodity in a city where privation is the norm and no one has enough.The four characters never meet each other, but they encounter other neighbors, friends, and strangers during the course of their quests. These encounters bring into sharp focus what it means to retain your essential humanity in the most inhumane of conditions, and whether it is possible to live through a war without losing the eseential essence of civilization."The Cellist of Sarajevo" is beautifully, lyrically written. I found myself compelled to read passages to myself, for the joy of hearing the language spoken aloud. Reading aloud also helped to slow my reading, and prolonged the pure pleasure of the experience of living with these four brave, fascinating individuals.
Lakenvelder on LibraryThing 20 days ago
A complex story of Sarajevo under siege. This novel represents the horror of living and surviving in a city where death could come upon you at any moment. The four characters lives are represented by their own separate chapters with their own stories and emotions.
jrquilter on LibraryThing 20 days ago
This book reminds us of the horrors of the war in Sarajevo, as described by the actions of four main characters. It is well written, but the reader is never fully drawn into the characters' lives. I expected to have stronger feelings for the tragedies described.