Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway, begins with a true story, an incident that took place during the siege of Sarajevo. On May 27, 1992, a cellist watched from his apartment window as people queued in a line to buy bread. Several mortar shells fell, and 22 of those people were killed.

For the next 22 days, Vedran Smailovic sat each day in that spot of destruction, playing his cello in memory of those friends and neighbors.

Galloway begins at this starting point, and gradually introduces three fictional characters. Dragan, an older man, works in a bakery. Kenan is a young father. Arrow, once a member of the university's target-shooting team, is now a sniper. The author describes their routines and their thoughts, as they face daily life in a city at war. He describes their moral challenges as well: how should one behave in this situation? How should we act toward neighbors, strangers, enemies?

The book does not have a lot of plot or drama. It simply tells the stories of people putting one foot in front of the other, as they adapt to their struggle. The prose is spare, as their life is spare. Galloway provides enough detail to see that these are good people, in a bad situation, and it is easy to care about them, to sympathize with them, and to hope that the war does not destroy their humanity. We also mourn the loss of the Sarajevo that was, and hope for its recovery.

Galloway writes about Kenan,
He knows that if he wants to be one of the people who rebuild the city, one of the people who have the right even to speak about how Sarajevo should repair itself, then he has to go outside and face the men on the hills. His family needs water, and he will get it for them. The city is full of people doing the same as he is, and they all find a way to continue with life. They're not cowards, and they're not heroes.
I think Kenan is wrong. I think they are all Heroes.

Note: the copy I read was a Riverhead Trade paperback. When I looked for the book at, to get a link, I noticed that copies of that particular paperback sell for $300 and more. What would be the reason for such an inflated price?

1 comment:

  1. Cool book, which I'll add to my list. :-)

    (But I won't be buying that paperback at Amazon! Especially when the hardback cover is less than $9.)