Excerpt from The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Cellist of Sarajevo

by Steven Galloway

The Cellist of Sarajevo
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  • First Published:
    May 2008, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2009, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Now, however, she knows she wasn't being foolish. She realizes that for no particular reason she stumbled into the core of what it is to be human. It's a rare gift to understand that your life is wondrous, and that it won't last forever.

So when Arrow pulls the trigger and ends the life of one of the soldiers in her sights, she'll do so not because she wants him dead, although she can't deny that she does, but because the soldiers have robbed her and almost everyone else in the city of this gift. That life will end has become so self-evident it's lost all meaning. But worse, for Arrow, is the damage done to the distance between what she knows and what she believes. For although she knows her tears that day were not the ridiculous sentimentality of a teenage girl, she doesn't really believe it.

From the elevated fortress of Vraca, above the occupied neighborhood of Grbavica, her targets bomb the city with as-sumed impunity. In the Second World War, Vraca was a place where the Nazis tortured and killed those who resisted them. The names of the dead are carved on the steps, but at the time few fighters used their real names. They took new names, names that said more about them than any boastful story told by drunks in a bar, names that defied the governments who later tried to twist their deeds into propaganda. It's said they took these new names so their families wouldn't be in danger, so they could slip in and out of two lives. But Arrow believes they took these names so they could separate themselves from what they had to do, so the person who fought and killed could someday be put away. To hate people because they hated her first, and then to hate them because of what they've done to her, has created a desire to separate the part of her that will fight back, that will enjoy fighting back, from the part that never wanted to fight in the first place. Using her real name would make her no different from the men she kills. It would be a death greater than the end of her life.

From the first time she picked up a rifle to kill she has called herself Arrow. There are some who continue to call her by her former name. She ignores them. If they persist, she tells them her name is Arrow now. No one argues. No one questions what she must do. Everyone does something to stay alive. But if they were to press her, she would say, "I am Arrow, because I hate them. The woman you knew hated nobody."

Arrow has chosen today's targets because she doesn't want the men at Vraca to feel safe. She will have to make an extremely difficult shot. Though she hides on the ninth floor of this depredated building, the fortress is an uphill run, and she must slip the bullet between a series of buildings that stand between her and her target. The soldiers must stay within a space of about three meters, and smoke from burning buildings periodically obscures her view. As soon as she lets off a shot, every sniper on the southern hill will begin to search for her. They'll quickly figure out where she is. At that point they'll shell the building, into the ground if necessary. And the reason this building is burned out is that it's an easy target. Her chances of escaping the repercussions of her own bullets are slim. But this isn't an unusual set of challenges. She has sent bullets through trickier air and faced swifter retaliation in the past.

Arrow knows exactly how long it will take them to locate her. She knows exactly where the snipers will look and exactly where the mortars will hit. By the time the shelling stops she'll be gone, though none will understand how, even those on her own side defending the city. If she told them they wouldn't understand. They wouldn't believe that she knows what a weapon will do because Arrow herself is a weapon. She possesses a particular kind of genius few would want to accept. If she could choose, she wouldn't believe in it either. But she knows it isn't up to her. You don't choose what to believe. Belief chooses you.

Reprinted from The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (pages 3-12) by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright 2008 by Steven Galloway.

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