Sep 3, 2010
The Cellist of Sarajevo. Galloway, Steven. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1594483653.
The Siege of Sarajevo is the longest siege of a city in modern history. Lasting more than three years, the siege resulted in the death of thousands, the near starvation of tens of thousands more, and the destruction of a city that was once a cultural and political center in Eastern Europe.
The “Cellist of Sarajevo” is a poignant story told through the eyes of four different people inside the city during the siege. The cellist, a character based on Sarajevo resident and cellist Vedran Smailović, watched 22 of his neighbors die in a mortar attack as they were standing in line for bread. He resolves to play his cello every day at 4 p.m., the time the shell hit, for 22 days in honor of his friends and neighbors who were killed.
Though the connection between the cellist and the other three characters is not immediately clear, Galloway uses their stories to underscore the message of hope and of peace that is conveyed through the cellist’s music. As the book continues, switching continuously between viewpoints in a way that is both captivating and aggravating, the reader never again sees the city through the cellist’s eyes. Instead, the other three characters, their physical survival, their mental struggles, their existential angst, bring the besieged city to the reader’s senses.