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The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
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The Cellist of Sarajevo (original 2008; edition 2009)

by Steven Galloway

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,8961853,618 (4.08)395
Member:labfs39
Title:The Cellist of Sarajevo
Authors:Steven Galloway (Author)
Info:Riverhead Trade (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:fiction, Bosnia, Yugoslav War

Work details

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (2008)

  1. 100
    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. 81
    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 Andrić (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 395 mentions

English (179)  German (2)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (185)
Showing 1-5 of 179 (next | show all)
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.

War comes in the form of the men on the hill. They take hostage of the city, keeping the citizens, the people in a constant state of fear. Four different lives, one of a solitary solider and elite killer, one of a cellist who's vowed to play in commemoration for twenty-two days on the site where innocent people were bombed to death, one of a senior whose job at a bakery exempts him from serving in the army, and finally, one of a man who risks the journeys through shell ridden streets every couple of days to acquire water for his family. Each story deals with the questions of what the war means, how the war will change them, and what will become of their country, their spirit if, and when the war does end.

The Cellist of Sarajevo was my very first audiobook and so it did take me a bit to get into the rhythm of listening to someone reading me the story as opposed to reading it for myself. Despite the adjustment period, I found myself quickly engrossed in the multiple lives and their reality with the war. Stark, beautiful writing and thoughtful considerations on the resilience and courage of the human spirit made for an excellent first time audio experience. My only lament is when the final word was spoken I was left with a lingering sadness because not everything was resolved. I wanted to know if and how the war ended. I wanted to know what happened to the country, its people, and especially the four people I had become so attached with and invested. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote jolerie | Nov 27, 2014 |
In 1992, civil war breaks out in Sarajevo. The violence of war often brings out the worst in us, breeding evil, greed, selfishness and corruption. Before long, the people become inured to the death and destruction around them and soon begin to view it almost as normal life. If they don’t accept it, if they are stalwart and reject the values of their enemies, they will not succumb to their demands. Violence and death in the streets occur indiscriminately, but the murderers can search within themselves, they do not have to murder arbitrarily.

There are only a few important characters in this book. One is an accomplished professional musician, a cellist who decides to go outside, in spite of the danger, to play his cello for 22 days, one day for each of the innocent victims who died during a mortar attack as they waited to buy bread at the bakery. This story is very loosely based on Verdran Smailovic, a very real cellist who played his instrument during the war.

Then there is Arrow, not her real name, a professional sniper in the army, whose job it is to protect the cellist because the cellist is giving the people of Sarajevo hope for the future and has become a target. When her commanding officer loses his moral compass, she is forced to make a difficult choice.
Kenan is a husband and father who goes out every three or four days to collect water for his family and also for an elderly, cantankerous neighbor, a survivor from the concentration camps of WWII. The walk to the brewery, the only place to get fresh water, is fraught with danger, and he often freezes in fear and contemplates his reasons for going. His task is made harder because his neighbor won't use jugs with handles, forcing him to double back several times to get the water home. He questions his reasons for helping such an ungrateful person.

Dragan, a man in his mid sixties, works in a bakery, the same bakery whose customers were killed while waiting on line for bread. He came late to fatherhood, and out of concern for his wife and son’s safety, he sent them to Italy while he remained behind to watch their home. When he witnesses a sniper attack on a woman who is a friend of his wife, and he sees others shot down before him, alive one minute, dead the next, he experiences a cataclysmic change of his rationale about life.

The citizens of Sarajevo must face fear every day. Some go about their business ignoring it, some become brave and help others, some freeze and can do nothing but stare at victims and witness the devastation in horror. They have become used to the idea that the war will never end and they begin to lose their own humanity, but the cellist returns them to their senses. His bravery and dedication inspire them to believe in tomorrow; he gives them hope.

The danger and caprice of war, when it comes to victims is movingly portrayed. They are prey and are helpless to defend themselves. After awhile, both sides that are fighting lose sight of their purpose and the hero and villain become interchangeable, both behaving heinously, indiscriminately committing murder.

The audio was read very well, and I finished it in half a day, unable to stop because it was such a compelling story that had many philosophical lessons to teach. We don’t have to succumb to our basest instincts. War can destroy all feelings of mercy and decency, but we can recover and restore our humanity in the face of the most heinous evil, if we dare to hope for the future and are strong enough to face it. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Sep 2, 2014 |
This was not a history of the Siege of Sarajevo, and I realise that, but it's darn close. What Galloway did with the material he had gleaned was amazing, to say the least. The emotions were just as raw, the experiences just as real, as it would have been there and then. It was heart wrenching on the parts of everyone portrayed in the story - even Arrow, who has an historical basis for her character.

I felt the cellist touch his instrument. I felt the pain of losing the people in that mortar attack. I felt the real need to, no matter the threat to life, do what he did for nearly a month.

There was so much in there, and Mr. Galloway led the reader, without a direct explanation, to understand a little of the mentality and strategy of both sides.

"Powerful" is an understatement. ( )
1 vote mreed61 | Aug 10, 2014 |
First line:
~It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort~

From the description from amazon.com:
“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.”

Hauntingly beautiful writing. Moving depiction of life under siege. Desperately sad and yet shows the endurance and triumph of the human spirit.

4.0 stars ( )
  ccookie | May 2, 2014 |
I'm not sure I'll be able to cross a street in my neighborhood without thinking about Dragan trying to cross an intersection in Sarajevo and wondering if he'll make it to the other side alive. Snipers are in the hills above the valley and they watch and play a game of hit or miss with the people who have remained in the war torn country.
Then too, I may recall Kenan when I purchase a case of water from my local grocery store. It takes me, 10 minutes, it takes Kenan all day to reach the brewery to fill his containers with water. He must walk over the treacherous remains of bridges, dodge bullets and mortar fire just to get enough water for his family to survive a few more days.
Arrow, has become a sharp shooter. She does it because she hates the men in the hills who have killed her father and destroyed the city which she and many others have fond memories, either strolling down a street for ice cream, going to the library or hopping on a tram. Now, it's all gone.
The Cellist, ah, the cellist, he memorializes those killed in one particular tragic event while at the same time giving people a memory of their own or a dream as to how things can be again.
Through tears and fears people survive with lighthearted remarks and a love for life and a love for Sarajevo.
Highly recommended. ( )
  Carmenere | Apr 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 179 (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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Epigraph
You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. - Leon Trotsky
Dedication
for lara
First words
It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort.
Quotations
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:12 -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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