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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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Title:The Cellist of Sarajevo
Authors:Steven Galloway
Info:Atlantic Books (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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.
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    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.
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    The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Get a more full history of the conflict from this book.
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    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.
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    catherinestead: Two gripping portrayals of human reaction to living in a permanent state of tension and danger.
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    2810michael: På dansk: Cellisten fra Sarajevo
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    Iudita: Another intense,personal story within the chaos of a war zone.

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» See also 444 mentions

English (203)  German (2)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  All (209)
Showing 1-5 of 203 (next | show all)
To my shame I know very little about the Bosnian war (which happened only 20 years ago) and after finishing this I feel like I should seek out some more books on the topic. This is the story of three Sarajevans going about their everyday life in very out of the ordinary situations. Arrow is a sniper who hates "the men on the hills" and is tasked with protecting The Cellist from enemy fire, Kenan is walking through a ruined city in search of water for his family and elderly neighbour and Dragan is on his way to work for a loaf of bread. Each has a very different experience in the city under siege and each story concludes with a slightly different message.

I did really enjoy this book, it is very uniquely told and will haunt me for a long time. In particular I found Dragan and Kenan's stories of moving through the city particularly harrowing. In my life I have never had to wonder if I am in the sights of an enemy sniper and I hope that I will never have to. ( )
  LiteraryReadaholic | Jun 16, 2017 |
I am not one to read books regarding fighting and war; however, I'm very glad this was assigned as summer reading, for I am very glad to have read it. Set during the Siege of Serajevo, this novel dealt with how people during war lose their sense of humanity. Throughout this beautifully written book, three characters, all citizens of Serajevo, set out to reclaim their humanity in the face of brutality, hatred, and hopelessness. ( )
  serogers02 | Jun 10, 2017 |
The Cellist of Sarajevo is a stark, microcosmic account of the effects of war on four main characters:

The Cellist who is compelled to play the cello for 22 days to commemorate the death of 22 people who died by a shelling while waiting in line at a bakery for bread.

A female sniper by the name of “Arrow,” according to her accurate precision and number of successful kills who normally acts independently, choosing her targets at will. She is later assigned to defend the cellist from any potential attacks. Arrow is extremely talented, but the course of her actions lead her to a duplicate identity and a cold, hard, ambivalent nature.

Kenan is a family man, a husband and father of two children who is over-burdened by the fear he holds in the responsibility of providing basic needs for his family, namely water. He, too, must live out a somewhat duplicate identity, concealing his fear from his family every time he must leave his home to travel a day’s worth to fetch water in the few bottles he must reuse and carry on his own. What he fears is the death he potentially faces with each step he makes on his journey and also what may happen to his family if he does not make the journey home.

Dragan was a husband and a father to a son who fortunately for them were able to flee to Italy in the midst of the war. Dragan, on the other hand, is left in Sarajevo, unknown to be dead or alive to his surviving family. He works at a local bakery and is given the privilege of at least having access to daily bread and food in a kitchen if he can make it to work. Unfortunately, the war hardens Dragan’s sensibility and drives him to what feels like a hopeless pessimism that he no longer wishes to make contact with people of his past before the war began to strangers that he may meet on the street. Daily encounters with others cause him anxiety and closes him off to the world.

I felt the novel had a slow beginning only because I had to adjust myself to the plain and stark narrative, but I believe the minimalism of the language was intentional to show the stark nature of war itself. I found the tone to be somber and grey, the pathetic fallacy of the novel that speaks to the affects of war on innocent civilians.
The fact that the story focused on four separate characters brought home the reality of how war can affect people differently and yet just as tragically. But I was relieved at the redemption found for each character in their slow, yet purposeful evolution.

Dragan was able to reconcile his anxiety in meeting his past by running into Emina, a woman who he and his wife had known before the war. They come in contact before considering crossing the street, which in war time is as dangerous as entering a mine field. They exchange a few words and Dragan discovers that Emina is risking her life to deliver expired medication to a stranger who requires them and also to listen to the local yet famous cellist play. Dragan resists her reasoning in doing this, but regrets being harsh with her. He only comes to a realization about his error in closing himself off to people and the world when Emina crosses the street and gets shot in the arm. Dragan is stunned into immobility. Unlike others who choose to risk their lives by helping her come across the street to relative safety and to whisk her off to a hospital for medical attention, Dragan is frozen in his fear, helplessness, and disbelief. He does, however, come to terms with this and compensates by eventually helping an already dead man move out of harm's way and out of the media. Dragan decides then that he will be one of the few left to help rebuild the Sarajevo that he remembers and assertively walks across the street to answer the "men in the hills" to display his decision to no longer live oppressed or in fear despite the war that continues on the lives of his people. This decision is cemented by his courteous and jovial greeting, "Good afternoon" to a stranger passing him by in the street, when obviously the afternoon is neither good, but the greeting emphatically necessary.

Kenan who cries out in exasperation by the exhaustion and toll it has taken on him to travel, search out, and obtain water for his family---not a simple task by any means when the brewery in which he gets his water is attacked by bombing and he is forced to witness violence, mayhem, and death---decides for himself that he will not falter to pessimism and hopelessness as embodied in Mrs. Ristovski's character, by returning on another trip to reclaim the bottles of water for his neighbour that he had angrily left behind. I, myself, would have chosen to leave the bottles where they were left considering how terrible and abrasive Mrs. Ristovski's character is to Dragan personally, but for drama's sake and good storytelling, this act shows not only Kenan's growth from a frightened character to a courageous one, it also shows the magnitude in which his sacrifice is made. Yes, he could get killed on the way to the bridge by simply walking and exposing himself to indiscriminate snipers from the opposing side. Yes, he witnessed the treachery of blood, death, and helplessness in the afternoon bombing. Yes, he's exhausted beyond measure. And yes, Mrs. Ristovski's nature may not deserve such kindness. But Kenan returns to find the bottles of water he left behind because he would rather choose to live with integrity by keeping his word -- and also, live without fear by facing yet again the potential warfare he may meet by travelling the same road he travelled only hours earlier. Aside from this, the reader is filled with hope for his success.

Arrow who decides to allow Sarajevan guerillas to locate and assassinate her though she has the ability to prevent this from happening shows her willingness to "kill" the character she had become in her task and efforts as Arrow. This death is a timely and justified one, perhaps not only as atonement for her own killing crimes, but also as an opportunity for her to reclaim herself as the person she used to be before the war, before she had become a sniper, and before she changed her named. She utters in willingness her true name, "I am Alisa," a testimony and epitaph of who she chooses to be at the end of her life.

And the cellist, not only as a man who brought locals together in unification to mourn 22 dead civilians for 22 days, also solidified for himself an answer in the madness of war. He played his cello at the risk of his own life as a commemoration of the deaths that took place, but also played his cello as a heroic and therapeutic answer to his own sorrow and grief about the war on Sarajevo in general. He does not speak, but only plays a sad rendition of a score that was historically "pieced" together from rubble -- from nothing. This act is not only beautiful and bittersweet, but a central focus to the hope and resistance shown by the people who must resign to the facets of a war ridden, occupied Sarajevo. The task is completed and this sense of completion gives the cellist and its listeners, its interactive audience, a voice without speaking and a resolution to some form of peace and reconciliation to what has happened and what civilians hope to happen.

Through the book is dark, sombre, tragic, and stark -- it does not leave you in the hole that was birthed by shelling of war. It does in its own slow, methodical, evolution, give rise to the people in how they were able to overcome their personal struggles against the terror of nameless death and the dying of their infrastructure, their culture, and their home.
( )
  ZaraD.Garcia-Alvarez | Jun 6, 2017 |
This is a good book, it just took me a while. It wasn't hugely exciting where you just can't wait to delve back into it. If the book was a movie, it would have been a slower indie drama filled with landscape and background shots.
Still the story was good and you bounce around between 4 different lives of the same situation. I'd recommend it for anyone looking for a calm, lazy weekend read. ( )
  jovemako | May 3, 2017 |
The Cellist of Sarajevo came highly recommended, but I had my reservations. How could a thirty-two year old professor from Canada give any sort of justice to the Bosnian War, and do so in a mere 200 pages? The conflict is much too recent to easily dismiss any inaccuracies in the text. And it's difficult to ignore the obvious differences in growing up in Kamloops versus getting by in Sarajevo. Surely, it cannot be done. The problem was, I was imagining that Galloway's novel would be like nearly every other war novel, when in fact, The Cellist of Sarajevo breaks most of the rules of “war stories” and largely succeeds.

Galloway takes the four year siege and narrows the focus to such a tiny sliver. Although the book blurb conveys that this novel is about “four strangers,” the fourth being the titular cellist, it really centers on three. The cellist is little more than a device to tell the story and unite the others. (The “cellist” is based on a real person, Vedran Smailovic; his inclusion caused significant drama.) These three characters are so unlike any other I have encountered in a war novel that it is shocking. Two of the three are merely men walking the streets with purpose. The third is a female sniper. All three are afraid, but only the sniper is doing something about it. The two men cower behind buildings and struggle with reconciling the past with the present.

Aside from the reversed war-time gender roles, I found it interesting how the characters most crippled by fear were the ones actually moving. It was the active participant, the sniper, who hid in the shadows and rarely moved. Such focus allows the characters to rise above the war that surrounds them and become closer to universal. It is by giving such a narrow scope—a family man in search of water who cannot stand up to his cantankerous neighbor, an elderly baker who seeks invisibility, and a sharp-shooter with a vendetta—that Galloway succeeds in putting the siege of Sarajevo on paper. I wish The Cellist of Sarajevo had made a bigger impact on me, but I think had Galloway tried to craft a more epic tale of war, he would've stepped into territory that would've been too foreign. As it is, The Cellist of Sarajevo gives those of us who didn't experience the war a glimpse of what it may have been like. ( )
  chrisblocker | Dec 16, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 203 (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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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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