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The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

The Cellist of Sarajevo (original 2008; edition 2009)

by Steven Galloway

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1,9731873,436 (4.07)416
Title:The Cellist of Sarajevo
Authors:Steven Galloway (Author)
Info:Riverhead Trade (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, Bosnia, Yugoslav War

Work details

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (2008)

  1. 110
    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (wisewoman)
    wisewoman: In both books, music is a character in its own right, set against a backdrop of human violence and tragedy.
  2. 101
    The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Alliebadger)
    Alliebadger: Both beautifully written accounts of atrocities we never really think about. Each one is a fast and amazing read.
  3. 30
    Pretty Birds by Scott Simon (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Many parallels between The Cellist of Sarajevo and Pretty Birds; the information on the Bosnian civil war in Pretty Birds is more complete and the writing is very good.
  4. 30
    The Siege by Helen Dunmore (gennyt)
    gennyt: Both are stories of cities under siege, and the struggles of ordinary people for survival in dangerous and extreme conditions.
  5. 20
    The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Get a more full history of the conflict from this book.
  6. 00
    Floating in My Mother's Palm by Ursula Hegi (VivienneR)
  7. 00
    Flights of Passage: Reflections of a World War II Aviator by Samuel Hynes (napgeorge)
    napgeorge: Two books which show the boredom and horror of war. The only two books I have read which reflect what war felt like for me.
  8. 00
    Ritournelle de la faim by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio (Cecilturtle)
  9. 11
    The Archivist's Story by Travis Holland (CatyM)
    CatyM: Two gripping portrayals of human reaction to living in a permanent state of tension and danger.
  10. 00
    Det dobbelte land : roman by Birgithe Kosovi´c (2810michael)
    2810michael: På dansk: Cellisten fra Sarajevo
  11. 00
    Between Mountains by Maggie Helwig (yagoder)
  12. 01
    The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian (Iudita)
    Iudita: Another intense,personal story within the chaos of a war zone.

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» See also 416 mentions

English (182)  German (2)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (188)
Showing 1-5 of 182 (next | show all)
It is 1992 and a time of war in Sarajevo. 22 people who were simply standing in line for bread were killed when a bomb hit. A cellist saw it happen from his apartment across the street and decides to play on the street at the same time each day, for 22 days – one day for each of the people who died. The book actually follows three other people more closely: Arrow, a sniper; Kenan, who has a family and must make a potentially deadly trip every few days to retrieve water; and Dragan, who works at a bakery, and is able to eat for free at that bakery.

I can’t say I’m overly excited about the book. It was o.k., but not much really happened. I guess it kind of gave me a look at day-to-day life in a war zone. I found I couldn’t really connect with the characters, though. It often felt sort of surreal, like the characters themselves were watching a movie; it didn’t feel to me like they were living it, and I think that’s why I couldn’t connect. But, it was fast to read and it was interesting to learn in the afterword, that there really was a cellist in Sarajevo who played for 22 days in remembrance of the people in the bread line who died.

2015 Reread for my book club: 3.5 stars.

I originally read this five years ago and was underwhelmed. Maybe my expectations were too high from so many people loving it so much, I'm not sure. Back then, I rated it 3 stars (ok). I'm upping my rating slightly this time to “good”. I agree with my original review that not much really happened, but that it is a good look at regular people having to live in a war zone. I think I was able to “connect” with the characters a bit better this time. Or maybe my expectations just weren't as high. ( )
  LibraryCin | Nov 15, 2015 |
This was a wonderful book about a horrible thing: the Siege of Sarajevo. It's three stories about three individuals all dealing with the devastation wrought by the "men on the hill" who shoot and shell their precious city: Arrow, a sniper who seeks to kill the men who are killing her city; Kenan, who must walk through the dangerous city to fill his water containers so that his family will have water; and Dragan, who is making an equally dangerous trek to get bread for his family. Interwoven within all the stories, the unifying thread, is the cellist, member of a symphony orchestra which was torn apart by the war. From his window, he has witnessed an attack which killed 22 people in a bread line. Now, for 22 days, he will sit in the crater where they died and play Albinoni's Adagio.

I will admit, it was the mention of the Adagio in those opening paragraphs that helped to pull me in. It's a favorite piece of mine, and I listened to my recording of it repeatedly as I read the book. My recording is the full orchestral version, rather than a lone cello like in the book, but that is one haunting, stunningly beautiful melody -- however it is played. And this is one haunting, stunningly beautiful book ( )
  tymfos | Oct 21, 2015 |
The cellist vows to play, in the streets of Sarajevo, for 22 days to honor 22 lives lost in a mortar attack. Beyond that, he is a periphery character that plays such a huge role in the lives of the characters around which the book centers. Haunting and unforgettable. A tribute to the strength of human spirit. Really lovely. ( )
  tnociti | May 3, 2015 |
Holy moly. Hold on to your seat for some descriptive visual effects (no quotes included here). Despite the book being fictional, its touches of facts still sent shivers. For a modest book, I find it layered with messages through a minimal set of characters. Nice…

3 characters, Arrow, Kenan, and Dragan, form the basis of the book. Their lives cross paths with the title character – the cellist, who is heartbroken over the 22 lives lost - bombed while standing in line to buy bread. He sits at the center of the crater for 22 days playing Albinoni’s Adagio pouring his soul into the music, mourning their loss and drawing others in at the same time.

In Arrow, we have a civilian turned sniper who obliges by her own code of honor. She protected the cellist.
In Kenan, we have a family man, father of 3, age 40, who struggles with his role in the war, calling himself a coward. His storyline is the long journey to get potable water for his family and a grumpy neighbor.
In Dragan, we have a baker, age 64, who has sent his wife and son away. He too calls himself a coward. His storyline involves crossing the intersection to eat lunch (seriously).

Each individual maintains or refines his/her role in this new world order where one can’t walk outside without fear of being shot by “the men in the hills”, or shelled, or simply bombed. Each struggles with the morality of this reality, his/her role in it, and in the end, finds his/her conviction and proceeds accordingly. Their 3 stories flow like parallel strands in a helix coil; we are educated on 3 different perspectives in this devastated world.

This book addressed not only the mechanics of daily survival, but also the human psyche dealing with this trauma – the fears, the humiliations, and the uncertainties. Not having lived through a war myself (knock on wood), I was particularly intrigued on the bigger question of “what is next?” The wars of the past were 'beat the bad guys', and then lives ‘return to normal’. But when a war of this nature happens, who will govern and rebuild afterwards? From Arrow: “It’s no secret that there’s a struggle between those who would defend the city at all costs and those who feel that the principles of the city, the ideas that made Sarajevo worth fighting for, cannot and should not be abandoned in the fight to save it. In the middle are the criminals… She knows the survival of the city depends as much on the attitude of the defenders as it does on repelling the attackers. A city of zealots and criminals isn’t worth saving.”

Reading this book is especially disheartening with all the wars that continue around the world today where neighbors are fighting against neighbors. “I really do want world peace.” – I’ll let you decide the source of this quote.

One reading tip – jump to the afterword in the back for a short history lesson and some background that doesn’t deter/reveal the story.

Favorite Character: Arrow – This chick has guts!! I’ll let you discover how.
Least Favorite Character: None

Some quotes:

From Kenan, on frustration:
“… He cries out, but doesn’t recognize the sound that comes out of him. It’s a baby and an animal and an air-raid siren and a man who has been knocked over by his own burden. He listens to it as it dissipates, gone like it never happened, and then he rolls over onto his back and looks at the sky… He’s tired from the world he lives in, a world he never wanted and had no part in creating and wishes didn’t exist.”

From Dragan, on the choice of living:
“…is whether you want to stay in the world you live in. Because while he will always be afraid of death, and nothing can change that, the question is whether your life is worth that fear. Do you face the terror that must come with knowing you’re about to die for the sake of one last glimpse of life? Dragan is surprised to find his answer is yes.”

From Dragan, on civilization:
“Because civilization isn't a thing that you build and then there it is, you have it forever. It needs to be built constantly, recreated daily. It vanishes far more quickly than he ever would have thought possible. And if he wishes to live, he must do what he can to prevent the world he wants to live in from fading away. As long as there's war, life is a preventative measure.” ( )
1 vote varwenea | Feb 17, 2015 |
Twenty-two civilians waiting in line to buy bread in a market in Sarajevo are killed by shells from the surrounding hills. Dozens more are wounded. It isn’t the largest single war crime in the long siege of the city. Just another one of many. But one of the effects of this atrocity is that a fine musician, a cellist who has witnessed the death of his friends and neighbours, decides to respond in the only way available to him. Each day, for twenty-two days, he will set up his chair in the crater that was left by the shells and perform Albinoni’s Adagio, a lament for each victim. It is a small gesture but a very human one. And it is not the only way. This ravaged city that was left to its fate for so long by the international community still has individuals in it who remember what it is to be human. The novel follows three of these other individuals over the course of the cellist’s multi-day concert of grief. Their actions, unsung and unrecorded, affirm the impulse that motivates the cellist. And, at our best, each of us.

Of course this is a novel overwritten with sentimental affection that tugs at the heartstrings. In a way, Galloway, is playing us and our emotions as much as his cellist is manipulating his cello. What’s surprising, however, is that it doesn’t feel as though we are being abused. We want to feel and to believe that there is basic human goodness in most if not all of us, but most of all in ourselves. Galloway gives us what we want. The question is whether he gives us anything else.

This is not a novel that will clarify or enlighten readers on the nature of the internecine conflict that arose in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Indeed, Galloway could just as easily have made this a nameless city under siege. Although the real conflict was riven with ethnic discord (latent or created), there is almost no evidence here of ethnicity, nothing that would distinguish any of the actors in this drama from anyone else. Denatured, the conflict becomes almost Kafka-esque. It is simply conflict. And the response of the individuals under siege, especially those we follow closely here, is just a set of possible responses which in this case are ones that affirm our and their humanity.

The writing is clean and full of pace. It reads almost like a thriller. We move with our three separate protagonists, experiencing roughly what they experience, including the anguish of decision as they struggle to be the good person they are at heart, even if that will involve their death. Again, that could come across as emotionally manipulative, but in the hands of a writer as competent as Steven Galloway, we are conditioned to collude with our own manipulation. And that is no small feat, even if the goal here — our affirmation that we too are good human beings — is not a challenging one for the author to get us to concede. Nevertheless, a writer with talent whose other works I would be willing to read. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Dec 27, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 182 (next | show all)
Canadian Galloway (Ascension) delivers a tense and haunting novel following four people trying to survive war-torn Sarajevo. .... With wonderfully drawn characters and a stripped-down narrative, Galloway brings to life a distant conflict.
added by SimoneA | editPublishers Weekly (Feb 6, 2008)
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You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. - Leon Trotsky
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It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort.
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 image of things as they were. Then the visible world exploded.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307397041, Paperback)

This brilliant novel with universal resonance tells the story of three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst.

One day a shell lands in a bread line and kills twenty-two people as the cellist watches from a window in his flat. He vows to sit in the hollow where the mortar fell and play Albinoni’s Adagio once a day for each of the twenty-two victims. The Adagio had been re-created from a fragment after the only extant score was firebombed in the Dresden Music Library, but the fact that it had been rebuilt by a different composer into something new and worthwhile gives the cellist hope.

Meanwhile, Kenan steels himself for his weekly walk through the dangerous streets to collect water for his family on the other side of town, and Dragan, a man Kenan doesn’t know, tries to make his way towards the source of the free meal he knows is waiting. Both men are almost paralyzed with fear, uncertain when the next shot will land on the bridges or streets they must cross, unwilling to talk to their old friends of what life was once like before divisions were unleashed on their city. Then there is “Arrow,” the pseudonymous name of a gifted female sniper, who is asked to protect the cellist from a hidden shooter who is out to kill him as he plays his memorial to the victims.

In this beautiful and unforgettable novel, Steven Galloway has taken an extraordinary, imaginative leap to create a story that speaks powerfully to the dignity and generosity of the human spirit under extraordinary duress.

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:45 -0400)

While a cellist plays at the site of a mortar attack to commemorate the deaths of twenty-two friends and neighbors, two other men set out in search of bread and water to keep themselves alive, and a woman sniper secretly protects the life of the cellist as her army becomes increasingly threatening.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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