Natalie's Reviews > The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
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Apr 09, 2011

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bookshelves: europe, historical-fiction
Read from May 15 to 16, 2011

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 - those who have tried to listen or sleep during sounds of violence want to put those memories far behind them, forever.

Sarajevo -this book, nothing, will ever explain to me how it all happened and kept happening a mere eight years after the Winter Games? I want to ask the City, "How you did this to yourself?" "How did it happen to you"? But Sarajevo is still (maybe forever) climbing out from under the horrors of the siege. Sarajevo maybe can't understand or tell the truth about itself yet, maybe never?

I wished there was an audio version of The Cellist of Sarajevo with Vedran Smailovic interviewed and playing at least 10% of the time. Echoes from the Square by Elizabeth Wellburn is that book and in this beautifully produced recorded reading video you can hear Vedran Smailovic's music and imagine what it might have been like for a child to meet Vedran Smailovic and talk with him about his playing during the siege.

Money Talks: Fictionalizing a contemporary situation peopled with living human beings, opens a lot of economic questions. I turned away from The Cellist to internet searches, music listening, and even reading other reviews time and again before I'd finished the story in an effort to understand more about Vedran Smailovic and whether where the limelight fell from Galloway's book brought any good fortune to him?

The economics of this book really nagged at me. My conscience told me that any income generated from me turning the page was not heading in the musician or Sarajevo's direction.

Novel length journalistic non-fiction doesn't even ruffle my feathers. For example, I suppose that writing Ballad of the Whiskey Robber must have cost Julian Rubinstein quite a bit to research compared to what it cost to write The Cellist . Maybe as a reader that's none of my business anyway? But, I have no doubt that Attila Ambrus will capitalize however he can on the 15 min of fame Rubinstein brings his way. Smailovic, on the other hand, the fictionalized Smailovic bothered me. When the re-imagined Smailovic dances for the crowd who's cup SHOULD the reader throw their money into?

The royalties from The Cellist are no doubt rightly Steven Galloway's but I found myself wondering anyway, should I buy a Smailovic album? Should the book have come with one, even if only a track of the Adagio?

If the real life Smailovic's cup were sitting on the street alongside Galloway's would I throw the same amount in each or would I throw more in Smailovic's? Would he tip it out onto the street and walk away? Take it to Ireland? Does it make any difference in the end? I don't know, but I could listen to him play the Adagio over and over and that is worth paying for.
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Quotes Natalie Liked

Steven Galloway
“Because civilization isn't a thing that you build and then there it is, you have it forever. It needs to be built constantly, recreated daily. It vanishes far more quickly than he ever would have thought possible. And if he wishes to live, he must do what he can to prevent the world he wants to live in from fading away. As long as there's war, life is a preventative measure.”
Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo

Steven Galloway
“Do they hate the idea of her, because she's different from them, and that in this difference there might be some sort of inferiority or superiority that is hers or theirs, that in the end threatens the potential happiness of everyone?”
Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo
tags: hate

Reading Progress

05/15/2011 page 106
45.0% "The longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare was arguably the 1992-1995 Siege of Sarajevo. Thousands of Sarajevans lost their lives under the constant bombardment and sniper shooting at civilians by the Serb forces during the siege."

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Bennet (new) - added it

Bennet Brilliant review, Natalie, and I hear you (pun intended) about reading about music. I'm the same way. I look forward to Echoes From The Square.

Natalie In this video the author reads the story and the book's illustrations fill the screen.
You can see the pages of:
Echoes from the Square by Elizabeth Wellburn
Echoes from the Square
by Elizabeth Wellburn

I have the book on its way now too because I wanted another look at the illustrations, they are well done!

Bennet wrote: "I look forward to Echoes From The Square."

message 3: by Bennet (new) - added it

Bennet What a treat! Thanks for posting the link. The illustrations are great.

Magdelanye Very interesting review Natalie!
I myself was quite conflicted about this book which I've just read for the second time. it seemed a bit mechanical, as if it was a poor translation, but that might be appropriate. I definitely will look up the other book you mentioned.

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