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The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

The Cellist of Sarajevo (2008)

by Steven Galloway

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,3142214,075 (4.07)468
  1. 110
    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (atimco)
    atimco: In both books, music is a character in its own right, set against a backdrop of human violence and tragedy.
  2. 111
    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
    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.
  4. 30
    Girl at War by Sara Novic (Iudita)
  5. 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.
  6. 20
    The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Get a more full history of the conflict from this book.
  7. 00
    Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood by Barbara Demick (catzkc)
  8. 00
    Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War by Peter Maass (catzkc)
  9. 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.
  10. 00
    The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return by Kenan Trebincevic (catzkc)
  11. 00
    Det dobbelte land : roman by Birgithe Kosovi´c (2810michael)
    2810michael: På dansk: Cellisten fra Sarajevo
  12. 00
    Between Mountains by Maggie Helwig (yagoder)
  13. 00
    Ritournelle de la faim by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio (Cecilturtle)
  14. 11
    The Archivist's Story by Travis Holland (catherinestead)
    catherinestead: Two gripping portrayals of human reaction to living in a permanent state of tension and danger.
  15. 00
    Floating in My Mother's Palm by Ursula Hegi (VivienneR)
  16. 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 468 mentions

English (218)  German (2)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (224)
Showing 1-5 of 218 (next | show all)
It happened in war-ravaged Sarajevo in the 1990’s that twenty-two people were standing in line to buy bread and were killed by a falling mortar. The musician, a cellist, was watching from his window when he witnessed the incident. He vowed to play his cello at the site of the attack for twenty-two days in memory of those who were killed. This incident becomes the background for the fictionalized story that recounts the lives of three others as they go about daily trying to survive on the dangerous streets of Sarajevo. Kenan makes his way through the streets to get water for his family. Degan is trying to get to the bakery for a free meal. And then there is Arrow, the female sniper, who has been charged with the task of protecting the cellist from a hidden sniper. The cellist and his music serve as the catalyst that forces each of them to find meaning in their circumstances and it both helps them to rediscover their own humanity and to rekindle their faith in the human spirit.

After reading this book, I am so thankful that I live in a peaceful country where I have food and drink and can walk the streets without fear of being killed by a sniper’s bullet or by falling mortars. While the setting and theme give the reader much to ponder, the book is written such that it represents the universal struggle to survive under the worst circumstances while at the same time retaining a sense of grace and humanity.
( )
  Rdglady | Nov 20, 2018 |
A different view of war, taken from the streets of Sarajevo. It's a personal view showing how war affects it's ordinary civilians. Chapters rotate between three main characters and we see all three put into situations where they need to make fast decisions which they'd really, rather not have to make. Life has become an unrelenting fight to survive. Life as they knew it before the fighting, is fading fast from memory and they wonder, is this how it is now, never knowing when or where the bullet or bomb will come from that could eventually kill them. As for the cellist, his poignant act of courage, playing Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor once a day for 22 days becomes a link in the timeline of these characters. He plays at the site of a bombing he witnessed where 22 people, quietly queueing for bread where killed. Vedran Smajlović, the actual cellist who was the inspiration behind this story expressed outrage when the book was published saying they had stolen his identity. ( )
  Fliss88 | Oct 16, 2018 |
I remember hearing about this book and sorta deciding I just didn't want to read another book about another war, especially one that didn't really effect me. Then I was on vacation in Punta Cana and had nothing left to read so I decided to check out the book-exchange in the condo complex. It was this or a Harlequin Romance so I grabbed it. This book is Brilliant. Period.

It is about the siege of Sarajevo, but really it is about humanity. It is about choosing to survive. It is about surrendering or fighting. It is about the defeat and triumph and the will to live. It is about shutting down or reaching out. It is about not going insane when living through insanity. Or maybe going insane to survive insanity.

The fact that the author managed to make me understand what 400 other books about war, survival, siege and death did not is a statement to his brilliance. The fact that he did not live this war is astounding.

This is a remarkably quiet book for one that takes place on a battlefield. You are in the heads of the characters, in their minds as they make tiny decisions that may or may not mean life or death. The War itself is not the main issue, how each person chooses to survive the war is what we are reading about.

This is not necessarily a quick read (it is a short book), I often had to put it down and think about what I had just read, let it sink in, there is just so much wisdom and insight here!

The review by TK421 here on GR nails how amazing this book truly is and why it is such an amazing accomplishment. ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
I am fortunate to coordinate a Book Club made up of a number of erudite and voracious readers. I come away from every meeting with some new insights, some new authors, and an all-around fun evening. This past month I was introduced to Steven Galloway, a Canadian novelist and a former professor at the University of British Columbia. He has won several awards for The Cellist of Sarajevo.

This novel, a bit over 230 pages, is packed with an intensity I relish in a good read. The novel is set at the height of the War in Sarajevo. The city is in ruins, and mortar shells rain down and snipers seem to be around every corner. The novel opens with, “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 instant of things as they were. Then the visible world exploded. // In 1945, an Italian musicologists found four bars of a sonata’s base line in the rubble of the firebombed Dresden Music Library. He believed these were the work of the 17th century Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni and spent the next 12 years reconstructing a larger piece from the charred manuscript fragment” (xv). According to this introduction, scholars are divided over the authenticity of the piece. We know it today as “Albinoni’s Adagio,” music of sublime and moving beauty.

Four main characters weave tales of the terrible destruction of Sarajevo. Kenan, a man trying to keep his family and friends with enough water; Dragan, a soldier directing the defense of the city; Arrow is a young woman who has been recruited as a sniper; and a musician known only as “The cellist.” When a surprise mortar attack kills 22 people lined up for bread, the Cellist begins playing the Adagio for twenty-two days—one for each of the 22 people who died. Arrow is assigned to protect the cellist. Galloway writes, ‘[Arrow] reaches down and picks up a small piece of glass. Glass is disappearing from the city. […] One pane at a time the windows through which people see the world are vanishing. // This is how she now believes life happens. One small thing at a time. A series of inconsequential junctions, any or none of which can lead to salvation or disaster” (82).

Arrow is an excellent sniper. After a while, she has an existential crisis about killing. She decides to quit and try to escape the city. Dragan reminds her she is a soldier, and he commands her to follow his orders to shoot as ordered. She prefers finding her own targets, but Dragan insists.

Kenan lives in his apartment with his wife Amila, and he must travel every day for water. Galloway writes, “Another day has just begun. Light streams its way into the apartment, where it finds Kenan in his kitchen, his hand reaching for the plastic jug containing his family’s final quarter-liter of water. His movement is slow and stiff. […] Like him, [Amila’s] middle age has somehow escaped her. She’s barely thirty-seven but looks well over fifty. Her hair is thin and her skin hangs loose off her flesh, suggesting a former woman, who, Kenan knows, never was” (13).

Steven Galloway’s taught novel is hard to put down. The tension is on every page. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a story you will not soon forget.

--Jim, 4/15/18 ( )
  rmckeown | Jun 9, 2018 |
It's hard to describe this book and do it justice. I am woefully ignorant of Sarajevo's history and I'd like to read ore. ( )
  bcrowl399 | May 20, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 218 (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)

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