Summary and book reviews of The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

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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About this Book

Book Summary

This brilliant novel with universal resonance, set during the 1990s Siege of Sarajevo, tells the story of three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst.

This brilliant novel with universal resonance tells the story of three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst.

One day a shell lands in a bread line and kills twenty-two people as the cellist watches from a window in his flat. He vows to sit in the hollow where the mortar fell and play Albinoni’s Adagio once a day for each of the twenty-two victims. The Adagio had been re-created from a fragment after the only extant score was firebombed in the Dresden Music Library, but the fact that it had been rebuilt by a different composer into something new and worthwhile gives the cellist hope.

Meanwhile, Kenan steels himself for his weekly walk through the dangerous streets to collect water for his family on the other side of town, and Dragan, a man Kenan doesn’t know, tries to make his way towards the source of the free meal he knows is waiting. Both men are almost paralyzed with fear, uncertain when the next shot will land on the bridges or streets they must cross, unwilling to talk to their old friends of what life was once like before divisions were unleashed on their city. Then there is “Arrow,” the pseudonymous name of a gifted female sniper, who is asked to protect the cellist from a hidden shooter who is out to kill him as he plays his memorial to the victims.

In this beautiful and unforgettable novel, Steven Galloway has taken an extraordinary, imaginative leap to create a story that speaks powerfully to the dignity and generosity of the human spirit under extraordinary duress.

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 ...

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Introduction

One of the Washington Post's Best Books of 2008.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is a gripping portrait of a city under siege, the small acts of humanity that come to renew it, and from the ashes, the rising, redemptive grace notes of one musician.

After witnessing a shelling that takes the lives of twenty-two civilians outside his window, a man decides he will play at the site of the attack for twenty-two days in tribute, to mark their deaths in a city bombarded relentlessly by surprise attacks and sniper fire.

Elsewhere in the city, a young man leaves home to gather clean drinking water for his family—a perilous mission that forces him to weigh the value of generosity against selfish survivalism.

...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Every now and then a book comes along that makes such an impression that the reader wants to rush out and buy copies for all their friends. The Cellist of Sarajevo is such a novel. It is a work of rare depth and beauty, and is highly recommended.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (804 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

With wonderfully drawn characters and a stripped-down narrative, Galloway brings to life a distant conflict.

Library Journal - Barbara Hoffert

Galloway writes simply and affectingly, occasionally resorting to cliché and just as often hitting a sweet, clear note that makes the siege of Sarajevo very real. For most collections.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Indelible imagery and heartbreaking characters give authority to this chilling story and make human a crisis typically overlooked in literature.

Sydney Morning Herald - Andrew Riemer

Galloway reveals considerable skill in the way he allows these ordinary and by no means exceptional men to act as conduits for his larger preoccupations: the insanity of civil war, the barbarism that always accompanies it and the callousness of those who draw handsome profits from suffering and from disrupted lives. Nothing is overstated here and for that reason Kenan's and Dragan's odysseys (or is it calvaries?) prove all the more memorable.

Author Blurb Khaled Hosseini
Though the setting is the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, this gripping novel transcends time and place. It is a universal story, and a testimony to the struggle to find meaning, grace, and humanity, even amid the most unimaginable horrors.

Author Blurb Yann Martel
“A grand and powerful novel about how people retain or reclaim their humanity when they are under extreme duress.

Author Blurb J. M. Coetzee
A gripping story of Sarajevo under siege.

Reader Reviews

Judy Sandusky

The Cellist of Sarajevo
This is a magnificent sleeper of a book. I was immediately surprised by the power of the writing and as I continued reading, the story and its characters became stunning to me. One of the best books I've read in a very long time. Unforgettable.

Reader

Loved it.
I thought this was one of the most well-written, thought provoking, and moving books I have read in quite some time.

Mary Bentley

I disagree
I disagree with the previous reviewer, Annie Douglas. I have doubts she even read the book. Rather than rebut her, I will point out that the quality of the writing has been endorsed by Nobel Prize winner J.M Coetzee, Booker Prize winner Yann Martel, ...   Read More

Annie Douglas

where have all the editors gone?
This book is marred by the absence of editing and many language howlers (his movement is slow and stiff -- digestive system still not working?). The female sniper is lifted from the world of action comic books, where she's meant to appeal to the ...   Read More

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The Siege of Sarajevo

continued from main section ....  Tito's death in 1980, as well as the collapse of Communism a decade later, resulted in a power vacuum, destabilizing the careful balance Tito had created between the Balkan republics. Ethnic nationalism, brutally repressed by the prior regime, experienced a resurgence. Slobodan Milosevic, leader of the Communist Party in Serbia, took advantage of the instability, eventually taking control of the region and of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA).

Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, concerned about Milosevic's growing power, began to move toward independence from "Greater Serbia". Despite resistance ...

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