- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; First Edition edition (May 15, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594489866
- ISBN-13: 978-1594489860
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 7.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 398 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,173,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Cellist of Sarajevo Hardcover – May 15, 2008
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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.
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
Top customer reviews
I did not find the characters in Galloway’s books especially appealing. I know Arrow was based on a real character, actually a Serbian who killed Serbs for the Bosnian side ([...]) and who claimed to have a bad conscience from all her killings although she claimed from her hospital bed to be a “war junkie.” I had difficulty reconciling Galloway’s introspective narrative on Arrow’s internal thoughts and reflections with my own view of Arrow and the siege. I was not sure why the characters, Arrow, Dragan, and Kenan, were so perplexed about the purpose of the cellist’s acts, or why he seemed to be a rather vague symbol in the novel, despite its title. From what I read about the real cellist, he was expressing his response to the siege in the language that naturally emanated from his soul and was also paying homage to the many victims of the war. Rather than perplexing to Bosnians, he inspired them, gave them courage to take a stand for the civilization that they referred and the cosmopolitanism that Sarajevo stood for. I found it far-fetching that the Serbian sniper was so mesmerized by the cellist’s playing that he hesitated and dreamed so that Arrow could easily kill him. For those who have not lived in Sarajevo and not read the real stories of survival, Galloway’s novel is no doubt powerful . It has certainly played a significant role in providing readers the experience of the horror of war, and of the challenge of survival. But the siege was so much more complex than these experiences and its impact so much more far-reaching than any book could give justice to. Nonetheless, Galloway did an outstanding job with a difficult subject and presented three different faces and perspective from which people saw and lived those horrible days of destruction. I am glad I read it despite my misgivings.
This novel takes place during the siege of Sarajevo in the early 1990s. It is told from the viewpoint of four different characters.
The first character - and we only read his POV briefly - is from a cellist who is living in Sarajevo during its siege during the Bosnian War. He witnesses the death of 22 people who are blown up while waiting in a line for bread at a bakery. He decides that he is going to go out in the streets and play his cello every day for 22 days - to honor those 22 who died. This is a very dangerous undertaking since there are snipers everywhere and the streets are not safe for anyone.
The second POV is from a character named Arrow. She is a young woman who has a special gift; she is an extraordinary sniper. She has been recruited to help defend the city by some rather mysterious government officials. She goes by the name Arrow because she doesn't want anyone to know her real name and because it is easier for her to kill this way; she isn't herself. Arrow is an honest and seemingly decent young woman who has been put into an impossible moral and physical situation. The chapters with Arrow are some of my favorites of the book.
The third character is Kenan. He is the father of three young children and he must go out every 4 days and collect water for his family and for the fussy old woman who lives downstairs. This requires him to go long distances and skirt dangerous sniper fire as well as bombs and other dangers. He remembers a time when he didn't live this way and when they were able to take having clean water and electricity and safety for granted.
The last POV character is a 64 year old man named Dragan. He is a baker and under normal circumstances he would be near retirement. As it i,s he is lucky to work at the bakery because he is able to eat. Still, he has to get to the bakery via the dangerous streets of Sarajevo. Dragan lives with his sister and cantankerous brother-in-law because his own place had been destroyed. He sent his wife and son away to Italy just time - before the siege - but now is lonely and wishes he could join them.
As we switch from one character to another this book really and truly educates us about what happened during the siege of Sarajevo (from 1992 -1996.) In fact the city itself almost becomes a character as the devastation and the deprivation felt by the people within is brought to life. Whereas the city was once beautiful and thriving and a tourist destination, during the siege it was incredibly dangerous and many people were either killed or suffered because of the lack of food, medication and from the constant explosions and sniper fire.
I read this novel for my book club and I'm really glad it was selected. I was surprised by how little I knew about the siege and it was an eye-opening read for me. It's one of those books that you read that truly changes you; you finish it and you're so appreciative of the things that make life easy for us and for the simple fact that we feel safe. We just take those things for granted and it's books like this that remind us of our good fortune and how'd we feel if it all changed.
One of the things the author does so well is make us empathize with these characters and ultimately realize that the heroes are not necessarily the ones who are "brave" in battle, but the everyday people who still try to keep their principals and decency during times of great moral and physical crisis.
Highly recommended. You can easily read this novel in one sitting and it's a page-turner for sure. It also has one of the best closing lines ever and I was very moved when I turned the last page.