The Cellist of Sarajevo


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'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 Snipers in the hills overlook the shattered streets of Sarajevo. Knowing that the next bullet could strike at any moment, the ordinary men and women below strive to go about their daily lives as best they can. Kenan faces the agonizing dilemma of crossing the city to get water for his family. Dragan, gripped by fear, does not know who among his friends ...

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Apr 1, 2020

The Cellist Of Sarajevo

I read this book upon the recommendation of a musician friend, a string player, after reading several reviews by friends here on Amazon.

"The Cellist of Sarajevo" is a short first novel by Steven Galloway, a teacher of creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Set during the siege of Sarajevo during the 1990s, the book explores how people work to retain hope and meaning during a terrible and immediate war. The book is based upon a historical incident in which, following an explosion that killed 22 people, a cellist from Sarajevo played, at the site of the explosion, a piece called "Albinoni's Adagio" for 22 consecutive days to commemorate the loss of the 22 lives.

The book includes four primary characters, including the cellist. The book suffers from this diffusion of interest. The strongest character in the book is not the cellist but rather a 28-year old woman with the pseudonym of Arrow. Possessing extraordinary gifts with a rifle, Arrow becomes a reluctant sniper in the defense of Saravejo following the outbreak of the conflict. She is ambivalent, at the least, about her role as a killer and endeavors to limit her targets to armed soldiers and not to civilians. Arrow is given the mission of protecting the cellist from attack by snipers during his daily playing in commemoration of the 22 dead.

The other two major characters are Kenan, middle-aged with a wife and daughter, who makes a hazardous journey twice each week to secure water for his family and for a querulous aged neighbor and Dragan, 64. Dragan is a bakery worker, an essential occoupation which exempts him from military service. He lives uneasily with his in-laws after his wife and son have secured their escape to Italy. The alternating chapters of the book move back and forth among the four characters and their efforts to preserve something of themseleves amidst the daily shelling of the city.

With the cellist, the book explores music as a civilizing, enabling force which helps people, friend and enemy alike, carry on. Galloway does not show the reader much of the cellist in the book as the novel explores more the reactions of people to the cellist rather than the feelings of the cellist himself. Arrow is the most complex character in the story as she must learn to come to an understanding of what she has become and its limitations. The remaining two characters, Kenan and Dragan, tend not to be distinctly drawn.

The book intersperses descriptions of Saravejo, past and present, with the violence of the war to give an indication of what civilized community life might be. Each of the characters comes to a realization that human life is infinitely valuable in its mortality. Galloway writes in a spare, muffled style. I was vaguely dissatisfied with the way the story developed. The book doesn't have much backbone. It speaks in a quiet voice in which characters and events meld together. More focus and stronger organization would have been welcome. I am still grateful to my friend for recommending this book. It reminded me of the many things that make life precious.

Robin Friedman

Richard S. P

Oct 26, 2014

Well worth reading to get an understanding of the tragedy of Sarajevo. An easy read.


May 26, 2011

A lovely read

This is our book club selection this month -- well written, but sad and sweet. How people survive the horrors of war is a story that touches us all.

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