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The Cellist of Sarajevo

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  15,216 ratings  ·  2,244 reviews
A spare and haunting, wise and beautiful novel about war and the endurance of the human spirit and the subtle ways individuals reclaim their humanity.

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...more
Paperback, 235 pages
Published March 31st 2009 by Riverhead Trade (first published 2008)
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Few books have ever moved me to tears. Sure, I get sad every once in a while when reading a story, but hardly ever do I feel like crying after a novel. THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO made me cry. Not face trembling, snot pouring from the nose type of crying, rather, the tears that came from completion of this novel were from a deep sadness I rarely experience. But before getting to my crying episode, let me first share a few things that I found amazing with this book:

1) It was written by Steve Galloway...more
Susan Rich
I was skeptical of a book written about Sarajevo by someone who neither lived through the seige nor who is a Bosnian, but I was wrong. The book is a lyrical song to a city l love very much. Clearly, the author has done enormous research and spent time in the city with Sarajevans. All that aside, what I love about this book is the deep empathy with the characters and with the city. Something about living in these unspeakable conditions is understood by the writer and rendered here with beauty and...more
The Cellist of Sarajevo has received good reviews and on the surface has a lot going for it. It's well written, convincing in its detail and doesn't waste words. Three characters struggle to get by in besieged Sarajevo. Kenan walks off to get water for his family and neighbours; Dragan to get bread. The third, Arrow, is a female sniper charged with protecting the cellist, who for twenty-two days will play in the Markale marketplace to commemorate the victims of a mortar attack.

The triple, parall...more
Opening line: “It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort.”

A few years ago while I was travelling in Europe I met a guy from Sarajevo and we became friends. At one point he asked me if I knew anything about what had happened in his country. I replied that I knew very little, only what I'd seen on the news. Sasha laughed and never said another word on the subject, which at the time I found strange. Now I know why, what could he possibly say that I'd understand?

This is a beautiful...more
Aug 16, 2010 Annalisa rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Annalisa by: Jeana
My favorite part of this book was the discussion of Sarajevo's role in starting the first World War with an assassination. "When the world thought of Sarajevo, it was as a place of murder. It isn't clear to him how the world will think of the city now that thousands have been murdered. He suspects that what the world wants most is not to think of it all."

I was in high school when the siege on Sarajevo began. And honestly, I didn't know, or at least had forgotten, about Sarajevo's role in WWI, be...more
Feb. 28 update:

Since my trip to Whistler, where I had the chance to talk with, and listen to Steven, I have learned that the original cellist and Steven are now on good tems. Apparently, there had been misunderstandings (language barrier could easily play a role!), but now, all is well. :)

Below, the review, as previously written:

Henceforward, when watching daily news clips from war-torn countries, I will think of the three main characters in this story, and what it must be like to live this real...more
A stark look at three lives affected by the siege on Sarajevo in the 1990's. I liked how Galloway avoided identifiers like “Muslim,” “Serb,” “Croat” and “Bosnian,” or any ethnic or religious labels in The Cellist of Sarajevo. The main characters are simply referred to as Sarajevans, their common enemy described only as “the men on the hills.”

There is a good mix of inner and outer demons. I think Galloway did a good job of showing what war does to ordinary citizens. And I liked how Galloway show...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
This book is raw and powerful. Written in the present tense, you are with the characters on the streets of Sarajevo during the siege of 1992-1995. It isn't fun being there, but it is compelling. The cellist plays for 22 days in the crater from a shell that killed 22 people standing in line for bread. Why?

The author has taken a dark event in human history and crafted a story whose theme transcends that event and is relevant to each life in every situation: Each life is important, that self respec...more
A truly AMAZING, 5 out of 5 stars, book that, simply put, everyone should read. It follows three stories - four, if you include the cellist's - of trying to survive and retain one's humanity (literally, as in being alive and human at the same time) while living in Sarajevo during the 1992-96 siege. The two men's stories (Keenan and Dragan) are particularly poignant and thought provoking: One man, a husband and a father, who is getting water for his family - a death defying act - and the other ma...more
In 1992, twenty-two people were killed by mortar shells as they stood in a bread line in a town square during the Siege of Sarajevo. In honor of the deceased, a local cellist who had witnessed the attack played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor at the site daily for twenty-two days. It is a bit of beauty at a scene of devastation. This fictional book is inspired by this true event in Sarajevo.

The book also tells the stories of three other characters trying to survive the devastation. Sarajevo is surr...more
I'm three-quarters of the way through this powerful novel that follows the lives of four individuals trapped in the daily horrifying grip of war in Sarajevo. What's luminous and gripping about it is how it is the first time I've read something about a war that literally makes me feel the tension/persistence/wrestling with how to be a civilized human in the middle of chaos. Heartbreaking. Makes me think of e.e.cummings line "pity this busy monster, manunkind..." Well worth the (quick) read. The p...more
I had been reading complex books—sung and literary books—and then began to read CELLIST, which was alarmingly simple at first in terms of words on a page, almost, in places, words plunked down, and then the storm of the story itself surged, and the horror of a place in which one cannot even safely cross a street set in, and I found this book to be very, very fine, and thoroughly unforgettable.
Iain Snelling
Well, this book divided the Hallam Cricket Club book club. I liked it very much, but the general feeling wasn't at all positive. I thought it convincingly explored the daily horrors of living in the siege, and the sense of bewilderment that that haracters felt. The three characters whose perspectives are given in detail are all plausible, and surviving as best they can - there is real suspense in places, particularly in the struggle to cross the road with the snipers firing down on them. I think...more
The Cellist of Sarajevo is a fictionalized war-novel of the Gulf War (and in between, the Bosnian War). However, the author emphasizes the event happened particularly in Sarajevo, The Siege of Sarajevo. It was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare [Connelly, Charlie (2006)]. After being initially besieged by the forces of the Yugoslav People's Army, Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was then besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska from 5 April 1992...more
Dec 02, 2008 *Christie* rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
Recommended to *Christie* by: Robert
Everyone: read this book. I feel so blessed and sick at the same time. Blessed for where I live. Sick for the ignorance that's been mine. How many people are suffering every day while I go about my life? As a parent I was struck by the idea of having to sacrifice your life just so that your child could have water. It's humbling. This is one of the best books that I have read. My next step is to learn more about the conflict in Sarajevo.

SPOILER HERE ----> How amazing is the humanity in each pe...more
Books about music, about people hearing music, about music stopping time I have a love/hate relationship with reading them, I want to listen to them, hear the music myself -RIGHT NOW. I am too impatient or too lazy or both to read well about music. I should have remembered this about myself before opening this book.

Those of us who who haven't had our listening interrupted by shelling thankfully can't truly imagine the sound of music played in those circumstances. Books about the sounds of war -...more
Laurence Thompson
At one point in this novel a cameraman sets up on a busy intersection, hoping to capture footage of locals running under sniper-fire. One of the novel's characters bemoans this. To him Sarajevo is so much more than this moment. It's a city of individuals with complex lives that crave meaning. Behind that footage, each person running has a story that deserves to be told.

But to me, Steven Galloway is that cameraman. The stories of his three main characters develop with strong matter of factness;...more
This is a gorgeous, haunting book set in war torn Sarajevo in the mid 1990s, as the title implies. It's about so many things - the will to survive, making choices, and determining who you are underneath the trappings of civility, especially as they are stripped away with violence. Its about finding pleasure in small luxuries such as having electricity or seeing your children smile. Its about deciding what is moral. One line I think sums my feelings about this book rather nicely - its from later...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Carly Svamvour
Apr 09, 2014 Carly Svamvour rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who gives a damn . . .
Recommended to Carly by: On the 'best reads' shelf at the library
April 9th, 2k14 - Jeff and I are reading this for the monthly discussion at High Park Library, the TPL's online Book Buzz and one of the groups here at Goodreads.

'Twas a good read all over again.


Comments I made when I read it in November 2k9 ...

This is a little known Canadian writer living in British Columbia and this book of his is more sensational than any novel I've read by any of the biggies . . . his style of writing, terse, to the point, wasting not a comma, bring the...more
A beautifully rendered, harrowing account of one month during the four-year long siege of Sarajevo (1992-96). It is remarkable that in such a slim work the characters could be so completely drawn and with such dignity. I noted in the author's acknowledgments those he thanked for helping him think like a Sarajevan and was touched that he allowed real voices to inform his work and speak through his characters. These voices of the four characters, whose survival in a destroyed city is linked by the...more
A powerful and thought-provoking read. A novel about what it means to be human and remain human in the most difficult circumstances, in times when the whole idea of civilization and the purpose of existing is being questioned. A story about the power of music and its ability to transcend, heal and possess the spirit.

I agree with what Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner says about it:

"Though the setting is the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, this gripping novel transcends time and place....more
Debbie Robson
Although I enjoyed reading about and trying to understand the seige of Sarajevo I found, like another book I recently finished reading, that two of the characters were almost the same. Both Kenan and Dragan were constantly making the same obversations, remembering very similar things and just did not stand out as individuals. I also would have liked more correlation time wise between the three points of view. A much clearer count down of the days remaining that the cellist would continue to play...more
It seems a bit unnatural to say I enjoyed this book since it is a heartbreaking novel of life for 3 people under seige in Sarajevo. But it was a truly captivating story. I usually judge a book by the storyline and my connection with the time, place and characters. I was transported to war-torn Sarajevo every time I opened this book. Their struggles are so far removed from the life we live that I thought it would be hard for me to "connect" with them, but it wasn't. I like books that are based on...more
This book celebrates the one thing that is ruined, destroyed, and made cheap currency during a war i.e. LIFE. Galloway has captured what it means to be human. Like Albioni's Adagio, it wakes up that part of you that has become desensitized to human suffering.

I doubly loved this book thanks to the Toronto Public Library's The Travelling Cellist event. That hauntingly beautiful tune shook the cobwebs of my mind and made me fall in love with this beautiful and blessed life all over again.

To the w...more
I have little memory of the news coverage of The Siege of Sarajevo. I was 12 at the time, so fully capable of understanding the significance and human costs of the modern world's longest siege. But how could such a messy conflict hold a candle to the Gulf War, where my home country had just finished kicking ass and showing off it's new toys. As an adult, it is strange to look back on an event that should have registered originally. So in that sense it was a revelation (though sometimes a frustra...more
Eileen K.
The peaceful and beautiful cover of this book belies the ugliness of war depicted within. Set in Sarajevo during the seige of that city, chapters alternately tell the stories of four characters as they live their lives disrupted by the snipers "on the hills." In Sarajevo, the library has been destroyed, the opera house - destroyed also. All the markings of a civilized society have disappeared.

Within this context, the cellist makes his brave statement, his personal act of defiance. After witness...more
Although the events in this book span one month, it is about the 3 year Bosian war that began on April 6, 1992. Ironically, I finished this book on the 20th anniversary of the end of the war, April 6, 2012.

The main stage is Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia. The author did a great job in creating the backstage that allowed me to experience a brief glimpse into the hardship, sadness, killing, and hope through the eyes of three main characters.

Twenty-eight year...more
Picture yourself living each day knowing that someone might have you in their rifle site once you set out your door. Do you think that you might possibly lose your humanity and your self worth if you were living under those circumstances? Hard as this is to believe, people in the city of Sarajevo lived this nightmare from 1992 until 1996.

Based on a true event that actually occurred on May 27, 1992 when mortar shells killed twenty two people who were waiting to buy bread, we meet the cellist who...more
My words cannot do this book justice, therefore, I quote the author.

"Why do you suppose he's there? Is he playing for the people who died? Or is he playing for the people who haven't? What does he hope to accomplish?"

(Arrow is a female sniper who hates and kills the men attacking the city and it's citizens from the hills. She is reassigned to protect the cellist from harm.)

"Arrow let the slow pulse of the vibrating strings flood into her. She felt the lament raise a lump in her throat, fought b...more
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Galloway was born in Vancouver, and raised in Kamloops, British Columbia. He attended the University College of the Cariboo and the University of British Columbia. His debut novel, Finnie Walsh, was nominated for the in Canada First Novel Award. His second novel, Ascension, was nominated for the BC Book Prizes' Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and has been translated into numerous langu...more
More about Steven Galloway...
The Confabulist Ascension Finnie Walsh The Journey Prize Stories 18: From the Best of Canada's New Writers The Confabulist: A Novel

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“She felt an enveloping happiness to be alive, a joy made stronger by the certainty that someday it would all come to an end. Afterward she felt a little foolish, and never spoke to anyone about it.
Now, however, she knows she wasn't being foolish. She realizes that for no particular reason she stumbled into the core of what it is to be human. It's a rare gift to under stand that you life is wondrous, and that it won't last forever. ”
“A weapon does not decide whether or not to kill. A weapon is a manifestation of a decision that has already been made.” 42 likes
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