Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Cellist of Sarajevo” as Want to Read:
The Cellist of Sarajevo
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Cellist of Sarajevo

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  34,173 ratings  ·  3,943 reviews
This brilliant novel with universal resonance, set during the 1990s Siege of Sarajevo, tells the story of three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst.

One day a shell lands in a bread line and kills twenty-two people as the cellist watches from a window in his flat. H
Hardcover, 235 pages
Published May 15th 2008 by Riverhead Hardcover (first published April 8th 2008)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Cellist of Sarajevo, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
John Park After reading the Australian article, while I can understand that Smailovic might be distressed at having those memories brought back to light, most o…moreAfter reading the Australian article, while I can understand that Smailovic might be distressed at having those memories brought back to light, most of my sympathies are with Galloway.(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.99  · 
Rating details
 ·  34,173 ratings  ·  3,943 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Cellist of Sarajevo
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary
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
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-lit-wd
The break up of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian War were geographically too close for comfort and are still too close to feel like history. I’d travelled to Yugoslavia a couple of times before the troubles and stayed in a town very similar to my own. This made the daily news images from the siege of Sarajevo seem even more raw and desperate.
Early in the novel, the Cellist surveys his ruined city. Music is the only thing that allows him to transcend the horror around him. He dons a tuxedo, steps outsi
The futility and horror of war are felt most acutely and despairingly when the young, the helpless and the innocent, bear the ultimate price. At 4 pm on 26th May 1992, in a war-torn Sarajevo marketplace, a mortar bomb killed 22 people, mostly women, as they queued for bread. In homage to each of those lost souls and in protest against the violence and conflict, an unknown Cellist enters the square at 4 pm each day afterwards for 22 days, to play his cello. He is completely isolated, vuln
Aug 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, fiction, balkans
Recently, I’ve been bemused by some ongoing commotion in my workplace over a draft blowing through some glass doors. Perhaps it’s because I just finished The Cellist of Sarajevo last night, but the office hubbub no longer amuses me and I think this is partly why books such as this one are fundamental. There are entirely far too many comfortable, middle-class people in their warm, dry cubicles complaining about things that don’t matter. These people will never know true hardship; their cities wil ...more
Darryl Greer
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. Initially besieged by the forces of the Yugoslav People’s Army, it was then besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska from 05 April 1992 for 1,425 days during the Bosnian War, three times longer than the Battle of Stalingrad and more than a year longer than the Siege of Leningrad. During the siege, Vedran Smailovic, a cellist, caught the imagination of people around the world by playing his cello, most notab ...more
Oct 20, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war
The Cellist of Sarajevo is a book where fact and fiction blend to tell a story of ordinary people and the terror of war.

Fact A cellist who has been the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Sympaathy Orchestra until the war came to the city witnesses a shelling that takes the lives of twenty two civilians, in defiance the cellist decides to play for 22 days in tribute to mark their deaths.

Fiction Around this event the author imagines the lives of four characters and so we see everyday life through
Aug 26, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Susan Rich
Jun 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A combination of history and historical fiction, The Cellist of Sarajevo is a harrowing portrait of a late 20th century civil war set in central Europe... And an excellent reading experience.

further review to come...
Elyse  Walters
Oct 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I've read this a couple of times ---

I never posted it on Goodreads? Shame on me! I thought everyone has read it! Its such a sad/sweet story. This small story can read it in a couple of hours --- Fresh air will pump through your body from the experience.

When I saw that my GR's friend --(also friend & neighbor)-- is reading it now ---my heart warmed!
May 09, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
During the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992, twenty-two people were killed by mortar fire while waiting in line to buy bread. A local Cellist commemorated them by playing his cello at 4 pm every day for twenty-two days on the site of the killings. This story is told through the eyes of three extraordinary people: a man who spends most of each day walking across the city to get water for his family and an ungrateful neighbor; another man who walks to his job at the bakery while dodging sniper bullets fr ...more
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Joy D
Fictional depiction of the siege of Sarajevo during the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the break-up of Yugoslavia. The novel weaves together stories of three citizens of Sarajevo. These three do not know each other. The common thread is a listening to a cellist playing Albioni’s Adagio in G minor for twenty-two consecutive days, one day for each person killed by a mortar blast while standing in line for bread. The cellist risks death from sniper fire to commemorate the lives of these ...more
Liza Fireman
During a siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian War, 22 people who were in line to buy bread are killed when a shell hits next to the bakery. It was next to a cellist’s apartment building, and he decided to play for 22 days, in memory of the dead, one day for each victim.

In a ruined city, where people are shot when crossing the street, this is a suicide attempt. And there is a sniper watching him, and basically he can get shot at any moment. A woman sniper, Arrow, is assigned to protect him. And she t
Dec 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Aug 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
In beautiful, simple sentences, Steven Galloway tells an incredibly moving story of four individuals, acting and reacting while the city of Sarajevo is under siege.

“The city is full of people doing the same as he is, and they all find a way to continue with life. They’re not cowards and they’re not heroes.”

Galloway paints intricate pictures of the way music can change an individual’s reality--at a time when reality really needs changing. These scenes are breathtakingly beautiful and made me rea
Dec 09, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: made-in-canada
3 Stars, rounded up.

I held out hope for this novel because many have raved about it. But, meh...

I'll say that Galloway has beautiful, lyrical prose, so the novel has that going for it. He was able to show the repetitiousness of war; there is constant shelling, constant bombing, constant fear for your life, etc. Outside of that, it really didn't get to me like it did some people.

I didn't enjoy the structuring. The three narrative structure felt a little contrived, in an effort to lay down some
Connie G
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
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
What a beautiful book! Normally when I listen to an audiobook, I speed up the narration to 1.25x or even 1.5x. Speeding up the narration by Gareth Armstrong would have been blasphemous: he sounded like Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey! Narration aside, the book was straightforward and beautiful; the writing style reminded me of Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day." Set in wartorn Sarajevo--but never getting into the specifics/politics of the war other than references to "the men on the hill"--the st ...more
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: can-lit
I remember hearing about this book and sorta deciding I just didn't want to read another book about another war, especially one that didn't really effect me. Then I was on vacation in Punta Cana and had nothing left to read so I decided to check out the book-exchange in the condo complex. It was this or a Harlequin Romance so I grabbed it. This book is Brilliant. Period.

It is about the siege of Sarajevo, but really it is about humanity. It is about choosing to survive. It is about surrendering
Julie Christine
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
Mar 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars - It was really good.

I typically really enjoy fiction based on true events and this one was no exception. When I was a young and ignorant teenager I worked with a few Bosnian immigrants that had fled their country due to all of the fighting, but I didn't really get it then and American news certainly was not covering it as much as they were the celebrity flavor of the month. I definitely was not aware that at the time, the Siege of Sarajevo was the longest city siege in the history of
Dec 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: march-2011
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
The opening chapter of this novel was incredibly written, gut-wrenching and sadly I think the rest of the novel failed to live up to that standard. What I felt this really needed was a little bit of context. There was one scene in the novel where a Western TV cameraman is quickly setting up equipment to get a shot of the locals running away from sniper fire. One of the characters, Dragan, is overcome with a desire to remove a dead body from view of the cameraman, risking his life to prevent the ...more
Laurence Thompson
Jun 19, 2013 rated it it was ok
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;
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Today, Europe and the world face a refugee crisis. And a growing number of people raise opposition to accepting them into their countries. I am personally baffled by this inhumane response. It is selfish, fearful, heartless and well, I really can’t come up with one single positive trait to place on such misdirected rhetoric.

I would like to say to every one of them, read this book and then tell me that you would not choose to be a refugee rather than live in a war zone or city under siege. Even
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Blood & Spirits (The Coming Storm, #1)
  • Making Hearts
  • Iola O
  • Goodbye Sarajevo: A True Story of Courage, Love and Survival
  • Betrayal of Faith (Zachary Blake Legal Thriller #1)
  • The Ancestor
  • Girl at War
  • Explosion in Paris
  • Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo
  • A Thousand Farewells
  • Doting
  • The Eyes of the Queen (Agents of the Crown #1)
  • Shot Down: The True Story of Pilot Howard Snyder and the Crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth
  • Dreams of the Ringed Vale (Luthiel's Song, #1)
  • Tooth for Tooth (Talion #2)
  • The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War
  • Crossing the Seas: A Diary of My Thoughts
  • Больно только когда смеюсь
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

  Mateo Askaripour is a Brooklyn-based writer whose debut novel, Black Buck—which Colson Whitehead calls a “mesmerizing novel, executing a high...
68 likes · 7 comments
“A weapon does not decide whether or not to kill. A weapon is a manifestation of a decision that has already been made.” 104 likes
“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. ”
More quotes…