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The Cellist of Sarajevo Paperback – March 31, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Canadian Galloway (Ascension) delivers a tense and haunting novel following four people trying to survive war-torn Sarajevo. After a mortar attack kills 22 people waiting in line to buy bread, an unnamed cellist vows to play at the point of impact for 22 days. Meanwhile, Arrow, a young woman sniper, picks off soldiers; Kenan makes a dangerous trek to get water for his family; and Dragan, who sent his wife and son out of the city at the start of the war, works at a bakery and trades bread in exchange for shelter. Arrow's assigned to protect the cellist, but when she's eventually ordered to commit a different kind of killing, she must decide who she is and why she kills. Dragan believes he can protect himself through isolation, but that changes when he runs into a friend of his wife's attempting to cross a street targeted by snipers. Kenan is repeatedly challenged by his fear and a cantankerous neighbor. All the while, the cellist continues to play. With wonderfully drawn characters and a stripped-down narrative, Galloway brings to life a distant conflict. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Inspired by Vedran Smailovic, the cellist who, in 1992, played in a bombed-out Sarajevo square for 22 days in memory of the 22 people who were killed by a mortar attack, this is a novel about four people trying to maintain a semblance of their humanity in the besieged city. Kenan trudges across the city to collect water from the brewery for his family; on his way to buy bread, Dragan meets an old friend who reminds him of life before the war; Arrow, a sniper fighting against the occupation, is charged with keeping the cellist alive; and the cellist himself, in his simple act of performing, courageously brings a touch of life back to the citizens. Although Galloway’s characters weigh the value of their lives against the choices they must make, he effectively creates a fifth character in the city itself, capturing the details among the rubble and destruction that give added weight to his memorable novel. --Elliot Mandel --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 235 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (March 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594483655
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594483653
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (301 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steven Galloway was born in Vancouver, and raised in Kamloops, British Columbia. He attended the University College of the Cariboo and the University of British Columbia. His debut novel, Finnie Walsh, was nominated for the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award. His second novel, Ascension, was nominated for the BC Book Prizes' Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and has been translated into numerous languages. His third novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo, was published in spring of 2008. It was heralded as "the work of an expert" by the Guardian, and has become an international bestseller with rights sold in 20 countries. Galloway has taught creative writing at the University of British Columbia.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

114 of 120 people found the following review helpful By B. Evans on June 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a novel so well-written and thought-provoking that not only did I read it in one sitting, but the very next night I read it again. I would encourage everyone to read the excerpt available via the Search-Inside feature, for it introduces the 28-year-old female sniper who goes by the pseudonym Arrow "so that the person who fought and killed could someday be put away." So riveting is her thinking and so powerful the last sentence of the novel that her story will stay vividly with me for a lifetime.

Other reviews, including the excellent one from the Washington Post (click on "See all editorial reviews"), have rightly focused on the characters around which the novel is centered. But also compelling is the plight of the city itself. Although Sarajevo became familiar to me during the Olympic games, one does not need to have seen the pre-war city to shudder at what happened to it. As one of the characters takes circuitous routes to get to his work and food, he recalls its past as he's faced with its present: "Every day," he muses, "the Sarajevo he thinks he remembers slips away from him a little at a time, like water cupped in the palms of his hands, and when it's gone, he wonders what will be left. He isn't sure what it will be like to live without remembering how life used to be, what it was like to live in a beautiful city." Or, I thought, what it would be like to try to cope with the destruction of wherever one lives, whatever the cause. In more ways than one, the author of "The Kite Runner" was absolutely correct when he called "The Cellist of Sarajevo" a "universal story.
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Susan Tunis TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Steven Galloway's spare novel The Cellist of Sarajevo will be haunting me for a long time. I honestly couldn't tell you when a work of fiction made me stop and think so hard about the world we live in.

As the novels opens, the siege of Sarajevo is underway, and 22 innocent civilians have just died from a shelling attack while they were waiting in line to buy bread. The eponymous cellist watched it all from his window. They were his friends and neighbors. For reasons never explained (and without need of explanation) the unnamed cellist decides he will play an adagio on the spot of the attack for the next 22 days.

This small gesture of beauty in the midst of senseless violence and horror makes the man a target. The attackers of the city, described only as "the men on the hill" will want to make a lesson of him--though exactly what that lesson is I'm not sure. The military men defending the city want the cellist protected. They assign that job to the second of four central characters the novel revolves around. She is a sniper, going only by the name Arrow. She was once a happy student at the University, but now she is a weapon in human form. Every day she struggles with her personal moral compass.

The third character is Kenan, a mild-mannered husband and father. The gauntlet he runs every few days is the long trek across town to collect fresh water for his family. No one is Sarajevo is safe. Every time they step outside, they are facing death (although staying inside is no safer with buildings being bombed daily). Kenan's terror at leaving home is echoed by the fourth character, Dagnan, a baker on the way to work who is literally paralyzed by the prospect of crossing the street. If he crosses the street, will he be shot?
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By vitamin on May 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Today happens to be the 16th anniversary of the mortar attack and as I read a news article about commemorating the victims(26) in Sarajevo I felt an urge to write a review about this book. I finished it recently and I felt that the author was able to capture the spirit of the people and what they went through being under siege. Not extremely graphic but with enough left for anyone's imagination to experience the horrors of war in their own mind and empathize with people of Sarajevo or any other human being experiencing war in modern times. Another thing I liked about the book is that the author stayed away from identifying the aggressors, causes and politics of the war and concentrated on survival and humanness of innocent civilians who seem to parish by hundreds of thousands in times of war. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a perspective on how a human spirit struggles through a war that appears to have no end.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Bruce on May 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't do many reviews - but felt compelled to offer one for this great book. It is a story that reminds us what makes us both good and evil - great and small - wise and insanely stupid - heroes and villians, all at the same time. Steven Galloway writes in a way that makes you feel that you not only know the people that he is writing about - but know them as friends or neighbors who you have known for a very long time.
It is the kind of page turner that will make short work of a weekend - and bring both a smile and a tear if there is any human in you...
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53 of 63 people found the following review helpful By ilvbks on July 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book in an airport and read it in almost one sitting. The subject, historical facts, and excellent cover reviews from esteemed authors made it a must read for me.

Why 3 stars only? The story framework is laid out ingeniously, the characters well picked and presented, beautiful images, the telling goes well and tension builds up to a point... and then... then there's not much more unfolding. I got the same images and thoughts, repeated in elegiac tone and not bringing additional value to the story.

If you don't know much about the events in the 1990s in Bosnia then you can probably enjoy the story for its universal values. But if you've followed the events it's hard to get transposed into a poetic state of mind and keep it till the end of the story. I had a co-worker, in 1993-1995, who had recently fled Sarajevo with one daughter to Canada. The rest of their family had been killed. It was incredible to see the tension building in this educated, intelligent, and warm person in an unexpected contact with another co-worker, who happened to be from the "other side". I expected (I wished) the book to achieve a more forceful message.

As a coincidence, Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian Serb army leader and war criminal, was caught a few days ago,
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