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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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1,9481853,498 (4.07)407
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. 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. 91
    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 407 mentions

English (180)  German (2)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (186)
Showing 1-5 of 180 (next | show all)
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 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 180 (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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