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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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Print Excerpt

the cellist
                         
arrow
kenan
                          dragan

Arrow blinks. She has been waiting for a long time. Through the scope of her rifle she can see three soldiers standing beside a low wall on a hill above Sarajevo. One looks at the city as though he's remembering something. One holds out a lighter so another can light a cigarette. It's obvious they have no idea they're in her sights. Perhaps, she thinks, they believe they're too far from the front line. They're wrong. Perhaps they think no one could thread a bullet between the buildings that separate them from her. Again, they're wrong. She can kill any one of them, and maybe even two of them, whenever she chooses. And soon she'll make her choice.

The soldiers Arrow is watching have good reason to think they're safe. Were almost anyone else hunting them, they would be. They're almost a kilometer away, and the rifle she uses, the kind nearly all the defenders use, has a practical range of eight hundred meters. Beyond that, the chances of hitting a target are remote. This isn't the case for Arrow. She can make a bullet do things that others can't.

For most people, long-distance shooting is a question of the correct combination of observation and mathematics. Figure out the wind's speed and direction, and the target's distance. Measurements are calculated and factored into equations tak-ing into account the velocity of the bullet, the drop over time, the magnification of the scope. It's no different from throwing a ball. A ball isn't thrown at a target, it's thrown in an arc calculated to intersect with a target. Arrow doesn't take measurements, she doesn't calculate formulas. She simply sends the bullet where she knows it needs to go. She has trouble under-standing why other snipers can't do this.

She's hidden among the detritus of a burned-out office tower, a few meters back from a window with a view of the city's southern hills. Anyone looking would have a difficult if not impossible time spotting a slight young woman with shoulder-length black hair concealed within the smoking wreckage of workaday life. She lies with her stomach pressed to the floor, her legs partially covered by an old newspaper. Her eyes, large, blue, and bright, are the only sign of life.

Arrow believes she's different from the snipers on the hills. She shoots only soldiers. They shoot unarmed men, women, children. When they kill a person, they seek a result that is far greater than the elimination of that individual. They are trying to kill the city. Every death chips away at the Sarajevo of Arrow's youth with as much certainty as any mortar shell battering a building. Those left are robbed of not only a fellow citizen but the memory of what it was to be alive in a time before men on the hills shot at you while you tried to cross the street.

Ten years ago, when she was eighteen and was not called Arrow, she borrowed her father's car and drove to the countryside to visit friends. It was a bright, clear day, and the car felt alive to her, as though the way she and the car moved together was a sort of destiny, and everything was happening exactly as it ought to. As she rounded a corner one of her favorite songs came on the radio, and sunlight filtered through the trees the way it does with lace curtains, reminding her of her grand-mother, and tears began to slide down her cheeks. Not for her grandmother, who was then still very much among the living, but because she felt an enveloping happiness to be alive, a joy made stronger by the certainty that someday it would all come to an end. It overwhelmed her, made her pull the car to the side of the road. Afterward she felt a little foolish, and never spoke to anyone about it.

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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