Book Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo

Written by Steven Galloway

Penguin Books, 2008

My Rating: A

I know this book was very well received when it was first published. I should have read it then but I usually avoid stories that might be depressing. For me, this kind of book is best read with other people. When the book group at the library announced it was this month’s assignment, I brought a copy home and started reading.

The first chapter grabbed me and kept me reading. The setting is Sarajevo sometime during 1992 to 1996. We see a professional cellist just beginning his daily practice. He no longer works because of the war but he still practices. He looks down from his window and sees neighbors and friends lining up to get bread. He’ll join them when he’s done practicing. But, before he can finish his practice, something “screams down” from the sky and lands in the street outside his home. Twenty-two people are dead, their only crime was to come outdoors and line up for bread.

The nearly four-year siege of Sarjevo is real as is the cellist. The rest of the story is a work of fiction. The author, Steven Galloway, used his imagination to create three civilians living during this time period.

  • Kenan is a husband and father of two young children. As the story opens Kenan is preparing his plastic water bottles to make the hazardous trip across town to secure enough water for a few days. Electricity is available occasionally for an hour or so. He and his wife use those precious kilowatts to heat water and to let their two children watch a cartoon or listen to the radio. Normally they all stay indoors.
  • Dragan is a man in his sixties who still has a job as a baker. He is forced to live with his sister and her family as his apartment was demolished. His sister’s family resents him living there so he tries to leave each day, even when he’s not working.
  • Arrow is a twenty-nine year old woman who used to be an accomplished target shooter back in her university days. Now Arrow (not her real name) must work as a sniper, killing the soldiers in the hills that surround Sarajevo. Arrow despises what she must do and also that she has learned what it means to hate.

Anywhere in Sarajevo is dangerous, but very true outdoors where snipers pick off civilians as they cross streets. These three characters along with others were deeply affected when the cellist decided to play a memorial to the people who died in the street outside his home.

For twenty-two days he carried his cello and a stool out to the street – one day for each person who was killed. Hearing the music reminded them all there is still goodness in the world. The short performance helped them remember better days in the past and gave them hope for the future.

Among the members of the discussion group there was not one who wasn’t moved by this story. When our leader played a cd of the cello music, some were moved to tears. A couple of people didn’t like the alternating chapters devoted to each of the three characters. Others didn’t think there wasn’t enough of a plot. But we all agreed this book should be read by anyone who is or aspires to be a political leader.

Look for this book at your public library. It’s also available at Amazon.

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5 Responses to Book Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo

  1. Beth F says:

    I have this here to read. I’ve been wanting to read it and yet avoiding it because it isn’t exactly easy to read about war. I see that I must get to it.

  2. I’ve been wanting to read this too. Whenever I have read about music being played during tragic circumstances – e.g., as the Titantic went down, as the Jews marched to the crematoria, etc., it is the music and its effect on the people who heard it that really sticks with you. Thanks for the lovely review!

  3. Kathy says:

    I’ve had this book for a while and I’m not sure why I haven’t read it because I love stories like this for some odd reason! I’m sure the cello music would make me cry too. Your review is wonderful!

  4. I loved this book!! I thought the alternating chapters was done very well. I should’ve listened to the music that he played during that time. I’m sure I would’ve been a blubbering mess.

  5. Stacy says:

    This one is on my wish list. If it’s that good, I’d chip in some money to send a some copies to Washington 🙂

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