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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Epigraph

 

one

arrow

kenan

dragan

 

two

kenan

arrow

dragan

arrow

kenan

dragan

arrow

kenan

 

three

dragan

arrow

kenan

arrow

dragan

 

four

kenan

dragan

arrow

 

Afterword

A preview of Steven Galloway's new novel THE CONFABULIST

RIVERHEAD BOOKS

a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. New York

2008

RIVERHEAD BOOKS
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014,
USA Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2RoRL, England Penguin Ireland,
25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,
Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd,
11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632,
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books
(South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Copyright © 2008 by Steven Galloway

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed
in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or
encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
Purchase only authorized editions.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Galloway, Steven.
The cellist of Sarajevo / Steven Galloway.
p. cm.

eISBN : 978-1-594-48986-0

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product
of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet
addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any
responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher
does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party
websites or their content.

For Lara

The Sarajevo in this novel is only one small part of the real city and its people, as imagined by the author. This is above all else a work of fiction.

You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

— LEON TROTSKY

the cellist

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 musicologist found four bars of a sonata’s bass line in the remnants of the firebombed Dresden Music Library. He believed these notes were the work of the seventeenth-century Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni, and spent the next twelve years reconstructing a larger piece from the charred manuscript fragment. The resulting composition, known as Albinoni’s Adagio, bears little resemblance to most of Albinoni’s work and is considered fraudulent by most scholars. But even those who doubt its authenticity have difficulty denying the Adagio’s beauty.

Nearly half a century later, it’s this contradiction that appeals to the cellist. That something could be almost erased from existence in the landscape of a ruined city, and then rebuilt until it is new and worthwhile, gives him hope. A hope that, now, is one of a limited number of things remaining for the besieged citizens of Sarajevo and that, for many, dwindles each day.

And so today, like every other day in recent memory, the cellist sits beside the window of his second-floor apartment and plays until he feels his hope return. He rarely plays the Adagio. Most days he’s able to feel the music rejuvenate him as simply as if he were filling a car with gasoline. But some days this isn’t the case. If, after several hours, this hope doesn’t return, he will pause to gather himself, and then he and his cello will coax Albinoni’s Adagio out of the firebombed husk of Dresden and into the mortar-pocked, sniper-infested streets of Sarajevo. By the time the last few notes fade, his hope will be restored, but each time he’s forced to resort to the Adagio it becomes harder, and he knows its effect is finite. There are only a certain number of Adagios left in him, and he will not recklessly spend this precious currency.

It wasn’t always like this. Not long ago the promise of a happy life seemed almost inviolable. Five years ago, at his sister’s wedding, he’d posed for a family photograph, his father’s arm slung behind his neck, fingers grasping his shoulder. It was a firm grip, and to some it would have been painful, but to the cellist it was the opposite. The fingers on his flesh told him that he was loved, that he had always been loved, and that the world was a place where above all else the things that were good would find a way to burrow into you. Though he knew all of this then, he would give up nearly anything to be able to go back in time and slow down that moment, if only so he could more clearly recall it now. He would very much like to feel his father’s hand on his shoulder again.

He can tell today won’t be an Adagio day. It has been only a half hour since he sat down beside the window, but already he feels a little bit better. Outside, a line of people wait to buy bread. It’s been over a week since the market’s had any bread to buy, and he considers whether he might join them. Many of his friends and neighbors are in line. He decides against it, for now. There’s still work to do.

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.

When the mortars destroyed the Sarajevo Opera Hall, the cellist felt as if he were inside the building, as if the bricks and glass that once bound the structure together had become projectiles that sliced and pounded into him, shredding him beyond recognition. He was the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. That was what he knew how to be. He made the idea of music an actuality. When he stepped onstage in his tuxedo he was transformed into an instrument of deliverance. He gave to the people who came to listen what he loved most in the world. He was as solid as the vise of his father’s hand.

Now he doesn’t care whether anyone hears him play or not. His tuxedo hangs in the closet, untouched. The guns perched on the hills surrounding Sarajevo have dismantled him just as they have the Opera Hall, just as they have his family home in the night while his father and mother slept, just as they will, eventually, everything.

The geography of the siege is simple. Sarajevo is a long ribbon of flat land surrounded on all sides by hills. The men on the hills control all the high ground and one peninsula of level ground in the middle of the city, Grbavica. They fire bullets and mortars and tank shells and grenades into the rest of the city, which is being defended by one tank and small handheld weapons. The city is being destroyed.

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 the Audio CD edition.
NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE

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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 (361 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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