Friday, June 6, 2008

BOOK:The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

in the pub '08

How do I remember so little about the war in Sarajevo? Yugoslavia broke apart after the Cold War, and I know there were lots of civil wars and the Canadian Peace Keepers were in Bosnia during the 1990s. I guess it's the same sort of awareness in Darfur now; there is something going on but the effect on me is minimal and I'm not exactly sure of all the details. I know something is going on, but somebody would do something if it was really so bad, right? This book, The Cellist of Sarajevo paints a grim picture of what life is like for citizens of a city living during a war siege.

Galloway takes a true event, a cellist who decides to play everyday on the site of a bombing and fashions a war story I won't soon forget. Twenty-two people were killed while waiting in line for bread and the cellist decided to play for them. He wanted to do a little thing, for their memory, and for his sanity. Galloway takes three fictional characters and follows them during the weeks the cellist plays. Arrow, a sniper who is the best at her job, is assigned to protect the cellist from enemies. Dragan, an older gentlemen who has sent his wife and son to Italy for safety, but can't bring himself to leave his beloved city. Kenan, a younger man who spends days at a time risking his life to get a water supply for his family.

This book scared me and moved me. How do people change in a situation like that? The hatred that develops, the change in character of the citizens as each person tries to survive in their own way. Some people run away, some stay and pretend it isn't going on, and some fight back. How did the rest of the world allow this to happen: for almost 4 years the former Olympic city was under siege and electricity, food, jobs, and money were all scarce. Galloway does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into the mind and life of a citizen in the city.

This book is particularly interesting to me because I know a teacher that came from Yugoslavia. I haven't talked to him about the specifics, but he came to Canada in the 1990s and I was thinking of him and his family while I read this book. I want to tell him about this book, but it might be too close for him to read about. For everyone else, this is a beautiful book that I think most people would like. It's not violently graphic but you will feel what it is like to live in a European city during a war. Not that you want to experience that, but I know that the next time I hear about a country under attack, I'll think differently.


  1. I loved reading your thoughts, but I can see I am going to be absolutely the last blogger to read this book. I'm way the heck at the bottom of the wish list at PBS.

    You know, I really don't think the news made it plain (at least I didn't really understand) how bad the situation was in Sarajevo. When I was working in a bookstore, I met a girl who had gone to the area after the war ended, with a boyfriend who wanted to capitalize on the rebuilding process. She said there were still snipers, at that point, and it was quite an amazing, eye-opening experience.

  2. Thanks. It's only just been released so there is lots of time to read it. The good reviews I had already read certainly made me want to read it.

    The whole situation is eye-opening. And it was snipers and morter attacks, just picking, picking, picking away. Nothing big and dramatic enough to have news reports about.

  3. Thanks for a great review. I remember hearing about this on the news but I was still pretty young and it really didn't impact me, sad to say. I'll have to add this to my TBR list for future reading.

  4. I already have this one on hold at the library. I'm getting so impatient, I can't wait.


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