The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
A spare and haunting, wise and beautiful novel about the endurance of the human spirit and the subtle ways individuals reclaim their humanity in a city ravaged by war.
In a city under siege, four people whose lives have been upended are ultimately reminded of what it is to be human. From his window, a musician sees twenty-two of his friends and neighbors waiting in a breadline. Then, in a flash, they are killed by a mortar attack. In an act of defiance, the man picks up his cello and decides to play at the site of the shelling for twenty-two days, honoring their memory. Elsewhere, a young man leaves home to collect drinking water for his family and, in the face of danger, must weigh the value of generosity against selfish survivalism. A third man, older, sets off in search of bread and distraction and instead runs into a long-ago friend who reminds him of the city he thought he had lost, and the man he once was. As both men are drawn into the orbit of cello music, a fourth character- a young woman, a sniper- holds the fate of the cellist in her hands. As she protects him with her life, her own army prepares to challenge the kind of person she has become.
A novel of great intensity and power, and inspired by a true story, The Cellist of Sarajevo poignantly explores how war can change one’s definition of humanity, the effect of music on our emotional endurance, and how a romance with the rituals of daily life can itself be a form of resistance
I put off reading this book for a long time, for two main reasons. First, the author is Canadian and even though I’m a proud Canadian myself I have often found Canadian novels less then intriguing. Second, it’s a fictionalized account of an actual event. I hate those. I guess I’m what you would call a purist… lets keep facts with facts and fiction with fiction. However I finally picked this book up and from that moment on I could not put it down.
Galloway is brilliant! This goes beyond an interesting story, his writing style is magical. His use of words drew me in in an almost calming way despite the fact that this is a war book. The people in this novel were surrounded by inhumane conditions and living in terror, yet in this book I was lifted up, filled with hope and reminded that the caring nature of the human spirit can be found in even the most extreme and vile circumstances. Galloway’s words were almost musical.
The Cellist of Sarajevo is a greatly fictionalized account of a real life event. Like I said before I’m not a fan of this. However I was even able to appreciate this because Galloway focused on an event in history, the Siege of Sarajevo, that I truly new little about. I can remember hearing about the war in Bosnia on the news and all the relief efforts etc, but in all honesty I barely even knew were Bosnia was or that the Siege of Sarajevo was happening. This prompted me to do some research before I read the book, as I wanted to have some real facts for reference before all the fiction was thrown in too. (I am now looking for some more books on it so I can learn more about this event that I know so little about!) The more I found out about how Sarajevo was basically cut off from the rest of the world and surrounded by snipers, filled with regular people trying to survive in the midst of war zone I was even more impressed and moved by this novel. I was blown away that such an ugly time in the history of the world could be depicted so beautifully.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, not just war buffs, but everyone. It’s a story of hope and love and maintaining what it means to be human. I am a frequent flyer at my local library, and not many books make it onto my “I need to buy this book” list, most I enjoy to read once and then don’t reread them. But I do have my own copy of the Cellist of Sarajevo and it has a happy place on my bookshelf, where I can reread it over and over again!
I give this book 5 stars!
*Reviewed by Amanda