Buggy's Reviews > The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
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's review
Mar 29, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, not-so-hea, shelf-11, survival, war

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 beautifully written, haunting and thought provoking story that I only wish I could say I liked more. Because it is so well done I also found it painful to read, depressing, absolutely futile and leaving me feeling angry at the whole world. Which I guess is the point and the ultimate result of any war.

I think what surprised me most is how little I knew about this conflict especially when you consider that it happened between 1992 and 1996. I mean that’s not that long ago and it’s not like this happened in a third world country either, this was modern Europe. I just finished reading a book set during the Second World War about the siege of Leningrad and this reads almost the same. How is that possible? How was this even allowed to happen?

Inspired by a real event this novel follows the lives of an unnamed cellist along with three others trying to survive in a besieged, war torn Sarajevo. It begins in the midst of a country gone mad, a mortar attack has just killed 22 people waiting in line to buy bread. Our cellist decides that to honour the dead for the next 22 days he will play at the point of impact. At 4 o’clock he dons his ragged tuxedo, sits in the bomb crater and plays. This simple courageous act creates a moment of peace and beauty among the rubble it also makes him a target.

Meanwhile a female sniper named “Arrow” is ordered to keep the cellist alive. Crouched from her perch in a bombed out building she waits for the counter-sniper who has surely been sent to kill him. She remembers back to a time when she went to college and flirted with boys at nightclubs and wonders how her life has became this?

The two other characters we follow disturbed me the most; An elderly baker on his way to work on his day off to get his daily ration of bread and a father making the long trek to “the brewery” to collect water for his family. A simple walk through the remains of the city has become a perilous journey. Mortars fall and the “men on the hill” go about their deadly business. Nobody is safe. Crossing the street had become a game of “Serajavan roulette” as the snipers pick off pedestrians. Should I cross now? Should I walk, run, crouch, crawl, go with a group? How do they decide who to shoot? But you need water and you have to eat. You have to make it across the intersection to keep your family alive.

These two men show us the city of Sarajevo as they walk through its remains and it very much becomes a character of its own here. The city shows us beauty and resilience and the men show us bravery, paralysing fear and humanity.
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Reading Progress

March 29, 2010 – Shelved
August 4, 2011 – Started Reading
August 13, 2011 –
page 143
August 15, 2011 –
page 272
August 15, 2011 – Shelved as: fiction
August 15, 2011 – Shelved as: not-so-hea
August 15, 2011 – Shelved as: shelf-11
August 15, 2011 – Shelved as: survival
August 15, 2011 – Shelved as: war
August 15, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Eastofoz (new)

Eastofoz I've heard about this one. Is it good?

Buggy I've literally only read the 1st chapter but... yes it is LOL

Yeah I think its going to be very good. Beautiful style of writing, brutal story

message 3: by Eastofoz (new)

Eastofoz I'll be looking for your updates then.

message 4: by Vicki (new)

Vicki Fabulous review Buggy...sounds like a very emotional read!

Buggy Thanks so much Vicki, I'm glad I read it but it wasn't an easy read

message 6: by Lulu (new) - added it

Lulu Buggy, you read this one too!? I am definitely interested in reading it!

Buggy Hi Lucy, Yeah this was very good.

Its a tough read but fantastic story. Very eye opening to say the least. Highly recommend

message 8: by Lulu (new) - added it

Lulu Cool! I really liked the intro of your review... I didn't know you went to that part of Europe. Do you still keep in touch w/ the friend you made from Sarajevo? Does the book talk about the Bosnian War?

message 9: by Tammy (new)

Tammy Walton Grant Hey Bugs. Great, great review.

Sounds like a tough read. I wish I was still up to those ones. I'm glad you're reading them; I can live the stories through you. :)

Buggy Thanks Tamster, yeah I tend to? Hmm... try to read a book that challenges me every once and a while(so I don't feel so guilty about all the smut) Anyways, while this was a good book it was a tough read and made me feel very ignorant yet also blessed.

Oh and thanks SO MUCH for meeting me in the alley. I hope you didn't get in too much trouble with the fuzz LMAO. Call me if you ever need help with bail again.

Thanks girl :)

message 11: by Tammy (new)

Tammy Walton Grant LMAO! Did I ever tell you where I work? Well, I work at the Court House (both Provincial and Queen's Bench) and see police all the time and would you believe most of them are young enough that when you yell, "Oh noes, it's the FUZZ!" (which I quite often do, just 'cause I think it's funny) they have no freaking idea what I'm talking about?

Buggy Did I ever tell you that my brother IS the FUZZ!!!
You make me laugh Tamster, I can't believe I used that word and you say it too, must be a generational thing. (which is a nice way of saying we're really old) No, I had no idea where you worked but if that's the case we probably should stop meeting in dark alleys. It would really suck if my brother busted us and we had to go to your courthouse for our trial. LMAO

message 13: by Tammy (new)

Tammy Walton Grant I would have to agree, Bugs, that we are probably old. But isn't 50 the new 30? That's the theory I'm sticking with, in which case I have 6 years before I hit 30. (try doing that math, lol).

Your brother is the fuzz?! That's too funny! I'll bet he has stories that would both curl your hair and make you bust your ass laughing. :D

(And when you work at the Court House you learn how to beat the rap - or, who to hire to get you off if you can't.) ;)

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