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Archive 08-19 GR Discussions > The Cellist Of Sarajevo *SPOILERS*

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message 1: by Rose (last edited Mar 07, 2010 02:59PM) (new)

Rose (roseo) So let's start our discussion. Please remember facts can be argued, but people's opinions are their own.

1. Do you think telling the story through the eyes of Arrow, Dragan and Kenan was more effective than trying to tell the story of the seige through one character only?

2. Was there one character you wanted to know more about than the others?


3. What particular scene most strongly conveyed to you the emotional impact of war? (message 19)

4. Toward the end of the book, Arrow hears her own assasins approaching her door and awaits her death passively. Why? And why does she reveal her birth name by saying "My name is Alisa." (message 27)

5. Why does Dragan take such drastic measures to prevent the dead man's body from being filmed by the journalist? (message 45)

6. Do you think war forces everyone to compromise something in the themselves? (their attitude or their moral compass?)
When the brewery is shelled, Kenan notices that there are three different types of people: those who ran away, those who stayed and helped others, those who stood watching people run or help. Does this ring true to you? (message 53)


message 2: by Nancy (last edited Mar 01, 2010 06:08AM) (new)

Nancy | 1271 comments I liked the fact they were different ages, stages in life, backgrounds, -so the reader sees how the war has affected each of them in different and yet similar ways. They all longed for and dreamt of life as it used to be, but their responses were varied. I can't elaborate right now - got to get to work - but I really wanted to know more about Arrow. Her struggle with the moral battle. Is anything ethical in war, in the struggle for survival against an oppressive enemy? She didn't want the hatred to overwhelm her, but how can you escape that? She didn't want to become what the enemy was, but did she succeed? Wow.


message 3: by Sharon A. (new)

Sharon A. (sharona826) | 172 comments I loved the different viewpoints of all of the main characters. I was fascinated by Arrow, but I really wanted to know more about the Cellist.

After I finished the book I searched on youtube for the composition he played. It was very emotional for me listening to the music and putting myself in the moment.


message 4: by Mandy Sue (new)

Mandy Sue (mettakaruna) | 811 comments I loved the different viewpoints of all the main characters but would have liked a little more depth from them all.

I really wished they had some more on the Cellist. It disappointed me that the only chapter told from his view was the first. I expected a bit more at the ending at least.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I expected more from the cellist, but I came to realize this story was about his effect on the others. It was how the others reacted to the men on the hills versus the cellist, that the cellist was just the vehicle.


message 6: by Rose (last edited Mar 01, 2010 08:40AM) (new)

Rose (roseo) Nancy wrote: "I liked the fact they were different ages, stages in life, backgrounds, -so the reader sees how the war has affected each of them in different and yet similar ways. They all longed for and dreamt of life as it used to be, but their responses were varied...."

I totally agree with you on that!

I also wanted to know more about Arrow perhaps because she was such a strong person, less like a victim. I also wanted to know more about Emina, the woman who was shot crossing the street on her way to deliver medicine and then to see the cellist. Hmm the women were portrayed as strong in character. Interesting!


Elizabeth (Alaska) What more that was pertinent to the story did you want to know?


message 8: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) Elizabeth wrote: "I expected more from the cellist, but I came to realize this story was about his effect on the others. ..."

Yes, Elizabeth. I also felt the cellist was the catalyst in turning their fears to hope.


message 9: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 2175 comments Slight spoilers ahead...

I wish the book had been written entirely from Arrow's point of view. I did not care for either of the male characters, to me, neither of them *did* anything. I understand that in war (and in a story about war) that many people are hollow shells of their former selves, but to me in this case, it didn't make for good reading. My favorite part for the guys was when Kenan leaves the old lady's water bottles behind because they are too cumbersome to carry. Finally! He acted! Instead of just reacting.

I agree, Rose, I wanted to know more about what happened to Emina, too (probably because she, like Arrow and unlike the men, was taking matters into her own hands). Did she live? She probably did. Did she seek out Dragan? Did she continue helping others around her or was she jaded by being shot?


message 10: by Rose (last edited Mar 01, 2010 09:27AM) (new)

Rose (roseo) Yes, it seems the women were stronger characters but I felt the intense fears the men felt were important to telling the story of severe basic survival under war conditions. Kenan seeking water for his young family and Dragan seeking bread;the bare essentials of life.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I don't see how you can say Kenan and Dragan weren't doing anything. Kenan was getting water for his family, risking his life every time he did so. And he generously got water for Mrs. Ritowski too. He did go back and get those left behind bottles, remember? Yes, Dragan was gripped by fear. As would most of us. I think it was important that this story be told from the viewpoint of more than one character. How boring it would have been to just look at war through the eyes of a sniper. There would have been no way to know how this affected so many different people.


message 12: by Rose (last edited Mar 01, 2010 10:01AM) (new)

Rose (roseo) Jennifer, perhaps the author wanted us to feel that intense, immobilizing fear that living under these conditions brings. I think using the male characters made it feel more intense because we (most people) expect men to have more courage. In this story, the women show more courage, which also intensifies the courage because of female stereotypes.

Ha, I just answered my own question while I was reading! I wondered why the author picked a WOMAN sniper as a character.


message 13: by Pam (new)

Pam (pammylee76) I read this last month and surprised myself by liking this book quite a bit.

I also liked that all the characters were different ages and that there were different viewpoints of the story. I liked Arrow the most and enjoyed her story. I did not like Dragan as much, and felt that he was just kind of a whiner - not sure why, since he didn't really whine during the book.

Rose good insight about why there was Woman Sniper!


message 14: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Mar 01, 2010 12:23PM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) I commented in another discussion that each of the characters showed us one way humans might react in this situation: resignation (Kenan), fear (Dragan), hatred (Arrow), and then we had an interesting discussion on which word best describes the cellist. I first chose passive, and defiant and compassionate were words others chose. I might settle on resilient, as he displayed the most ability to continue being the same person he was before the siege started.


message 15: by Nancy (last edited Mar 01, 2010 01:02PM) (new)

Nancy | 1271 comments I felt like the men characters had family obligations, with children and spouses, even if Dragan's were in Italy. Perhaps that was why Arrow was more free to become involved? She didn't have the day to day responsibility of taking care of other people? I would say the cellist was extremely brave in terms of risking his life in a different way. He went out there on a daily basis to feed people, but feed them spiritually with what he had to offer.

And yes Elizabeth - I agree - loved when Keenan finally acted and left the bottles behind.

Pam - also agree that Dragan wasn't a whiner exactly but certainly rather paralyzed by his experiences. Maybe some people lose their ability to react when they are repeatedly bombarded with pain and suffering and the instinct for self-preservation wins out over altruism.


message 16: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) I loved the characterisation, the three strands of narrative and the evocation of a war-torn Sarajevo seemed realistic to me (...as much as it can to someone who has never and may never be in that situation themselves!) I loved how the authour expressed the fact that during the war no-one had a 'back story'. They either wanted to forget how good they had it before the war or there was the thought that their previous world had ceased to exist completely and would never exist again so it was just too painful. Their world will now forever be tainted well into the future and beyond the war by what must have been a living hell for those inside the city.

I also loved how the cellist brought civility back to a city in complete degredation - how he made a 'faceless' story of war powerfully about those individuals that died in that bread queue.

Ally


message 17: by Rose (last edited Mar 01, 2010 02:09PM) (new)

Rose (roseo) To me the cellist symbolised hope. The Adagio renews his hope when he plays it. I agree with Nancy, he feeds them spiritually.

The Adagio he was playing was explained in the first chapter as one that was written based on remnants of music found after another city (Dresden) was bombed during a war. It was supposedly "reconstructed" over twelve years by Albioni. Just like the hope to rebuild the city of Sarajevo.


message 18: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) GREAT discussion so far! (Thanks for participating!)


message 19: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) While the book is fresh in our minds, let me ask:

#3. What particular scene most strongly conveyed to you the emotional impact of war?


Elizabeth (Alaska) I need to comment on the cellist and the Adagio. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedran_S...
These two parts are fact, not fiction. According to the author, the cellist in the story is not Smailovic, but the story is based on this true life event.


message 21: by Pam (new)

Pam (pammylee76) Rose wrote: ...#3. What particular scene most strongly conveyed to you the emotional impact of war?"

For me there were 2 scenes. One was when the sniper was shooting people on the street that Dragan was trying to cross. And that Dragan saw someone he knew get shot during the shootings.

The second one was when Kenan was at the brewery getting water. Reading how so many were standing in line for something as simple as water really made me think about how simple necessities are sometimes hard to come by at war times.


message 22: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) #3. What particular scene most strongly conveyed to you the emotional impact of war?"

For me it was when Kenan would leave to go for water. He would joke with his wife on one side of the door and then on the other side sit down in sheer terror knowing how dangerous his trip was. He didn't want his children and wife to remember him this way if he died. Oh, how I hurt for him to watch his children go through this war.


Elizabeth (Alaska) #3. What particular scene most strongly conveyed to you the emotional impact of war?"

For me it was Dragan on the street corner. So much went on in that scene. He was paralyzed with fear for hours.


message 24: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 2175 comments I think the reason I disliked the men so much was because it didn't feel to me that their actions were a result of it being war time. I felt they were both wimps who got walked all over before this happened. I can't exactly say why I got this impression, but they struck me as wishy washy and it just bugged me.

#3. What particular scene most strongly conveyed to you the emotional impact of war?
For me it was the journalist trying to take the picture of the man who had just died. It was a moment to let those of us who haven't lived through this sort of experience to be in the story. We see wars through the eyes of journalists, we see the dead bodies in the street without seeing the bigger picture. We don't realize that man was alive a few minutes ago, standing next to other people debating to go ahead or turn back, not knowing which is the right choice. For me it was a bit of breaking down the fourth wall, saying "this is all you saw, but really, there was so much more going on."

I also thought Emina sharing salt and cherries with the old woman was a beautiful scene, one that probably would not have played out had it not been war time.


message 25: by Rose (last edited Mar 02, 2010 09:33AM) (new)

Rose (roseo) Jennifer, yes I agree about that scene with the journalist. It seems after a while the constant photos of war presented by journalists can make us immune to the horrible realities of the "big picture" of actually being there.

Elizabeth, I felt that scene strongly, as well. It was such a bizzare "lottery". The sniper shots were so random! It was chilling. As Pam said, watching someone you know get shot. Especially, after just speaking to them!


message 26: by Mandy Sue (last edited Mar 02, 2010 07:10PM) (new)

Mandy Sue (mettakaruna) | 811 comments I loved Roses wording that the cellist represented hope and I loved Elizabeth's choice of words, resilient.


message 27: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) #4. Toward the end of the book, Arrow hears her own assasins approaching her door and awaits her death passively. Why? And why does she reveal her birth name by saying "My name is Alisa."


message 28: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany | 92 comments I generally don't like books about war, so I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed reading about each of these characters. The author left out the politics and the history and simply told the story from the human perspective, which ultimately comes down to "us" versus "them."

One of the things that struck me the most is how tiring it is to live during a war when you are dealing with challenges each day such as obtaining water and food. I couldn't help but think of all of the people in the world today who are living similar lives due to war.

Arrow stating her name as death approached was her way of becoming human again. As an sniper, she took on a persona that allowed her to kill other people when that was not really in her nature. Her real name is a connection to her childhood, her father, and even her unrealized aspirations.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Rose wrote: "#4. Toward the end of the book, Arrow hears her own assasins approaching her door and awaits her death passively. Why? And why does she reveal her birth name by saying "My name is Alisa.""

Arrow was a weapon and, until this point in the story, allowed herself to be controlled by circumstances outside herself. It was time to step up and be herself, to quit being controlled by others, even if that meant death. This is the point of the story that I felt applies to all of us in nearly all situations, both personal and political, least of all war, as few of us are unlucky enough to find ourselves in the middle of a war.


message 30: by Carrie (last edited Mar 03, 2010 05:48PM) (new)

Carrie Honaker (carriehonaker) | 99 comments Tiffany wrote: "I generally don't like books about war, so I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed reading about each of these characters. The author left out the politics and the history and simply told the ..."
I agree with you that this act allowed Arrow to assert her connection to the self that was not the sniper. A name is something that is so personal and tied up with our identity that even the speaking of it reminds us of our own humanity. I'm reminded of the scene in "A Knight's Tale" when Heath Ledger screams his name as he faces his opponenent with all odds against him. It is as if he is reminding himself of who he is and what he is at his core and I believe Arrow was doing the same thing. It was a reminder that she was not just a sniper, but a woman, a daughter and many other things that only "Arrow" could be.


message 31: by Elena (new)

Elena | 129 comments I see the book as snapshots of people living a war, I don't feel I read a story. I would had liked to read more about the seige, who, why, know more about what was going on internally at the end. I am not sure I understand the motives and the people that turned against Arrow's boss.


message 32: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 2175 comments I think, Elena that the powers that be were more than a little nervous about Arrow and her boss because they were free thinking. They chose the targets, they chose the missions. Militaries tend to frown on individualism like that. I, too, though wish I knew a little more about what was going on.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I think there is plenty on the web that might answer this question, though I haven't read them. Usually what happens in these situations is a quest for power and control, which ultimately leads to corruption. Nermin Filopovic and Arrow were in the way.


message 34: by Barbara H (new)

Barbara H (barbhh) I haven't read this book yet, but I intend to,so I am not reading the preceding comments, but I wanted to add some interesting facts!
I borrowed a CD from my library of Yo Yo Ma playing several cello solos. One is entitled, The Cellist of Sarajevo, by David Wilde, a composer and pianist. He wrote about reading the story in the NY Times while on a train from Nuremberg. He said, "It made an impact more immediate than any political statement up to that time.... As I sat in the train, deeply moved, I listened and somewhere deep within me a cello began to play a circular melody like a lament without end..."


message 35: by Elena (new)

Elena | 129 comments I have looked at history facts on the web before, but I feel in this case that having to go out to look for information took something away from the feeling of the story, as there is much I don't know about Sarajevo.

I will look up for the cellist melody, I think it will complete the feeling of the book. I wish I had done it before, or while reading the book.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I have been involved in several book discussions. Someone always wants the book to be something other than it is. Sometimes they want to the character to behave differently, or sometimes they want the author to take the story in a different direction. I think we should let the author tell the story that is in him/her. If we want more/different information, then move on.


message 37: by Barbara H (new)

Barbara H (barbhh) Elizabeth wrote: "I have been involved in several book discussions. Someone always wants the book to be something other than it is. Sometimes they want to the character to behave differently, or sometimes they want ..."

I do not know if you are referring to my comment, since as I said, I'm not following the discussion due to spoilers. My reference was an addition, not a sustitution. Many good books lead to further exploration on the topic.


Elizabeth (Alaska) No, Barbara, not you LOL. I was referring to some comments about wanting the story told from only one character's point of view, or wanting to know more about . . . In other book discussions, people wanted the characters to behave differently. I can see not liking a book because of such and such, but wanting this book to be different just doesn't make any sense to me. At the same time, it indicates a reader is fully involved with the story that the author did write, so that's a good thing. I think I might be touchy on this subject because I'm so much more interested in character development than plot development. This was one of those and I gave it 5 stars.


message 39: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) Elena, I did not like studying history when I was younger. I always need to look up historical information, and I use Wikipedia. It explains things pretty simply. Here is a link to the seige of Sarajevo.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarajevo...

Thank goodness for computers! It makes it soooo easy! :)


message 40: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) Rose wrote: "#4. Toward the end of the book, Arrow hears her own assasins approaching her door and awaits her death passively. Why? And why does she reveal her birth name by saying "My name is Alisa.""

Yes, I agrre with all! She made up her mind to be a weapon only. She chose her targets and they were always soldiers. She didn't want to "feel" anything but hatred to do her duty as a sniper. I think after the cellist made her feel so deeply, she couldn't go back to be being Arrow again.


message 41: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) Hi Barb! Your comment on listening to the music was a great addition. That was actually the FIRST thing I did after the first chapter!!!! :)


message 42: by Nancy (last edited Mar 05, 2010 11:04AM) (new)

Nancy | 1271 comments Yes yes - I agree. I think on some level she felt that the war had turned her into two different people. She had temporarily left her old self behind and was consumed by this role as sniper. But it conflicted with how she felt about war. Her targets were carefully chosen. The enemy chose random victims because of hatred for a group of people as a whole. She chose victims as a reaction to THEIR indiscriminate killing. Theirs was a genocide. She didn't see herself that way. As Elizabeth said, she and Nermin became a liability to their own side. It seems in times of war, part of the propaganda is to incite a generalized hatred for the enemy as a whole. To take away a sense of their humanity. Arrow didn't believe in that kind of war. I think in the end she gave up, perhaps partly because of her experience protecting the cellist. She remembered who she really was - Alisa. Being unable to escape this evitable hunt, maybe death was the only way she could return to her former self?

When you start to look up info about the music and real person its kind of interesting. I was sad to find out that the real life cellist Vedran Smailovic was not happy with the book and wanted financial compensation from the author. Also interesting to note that the music is not written by Albinoni but by Giazotto - based on a fragment of Alinoni's music found in the Dresden Library after it was bombed in WWII.

I think this book didn't start out to impart facts and history. It was meant to give us those glimpses of humanity and not more. Do we need to know who the cellist was to experience the grace of his gift?


message 43: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Mar 05, 2010 11:13AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) What is interesting about the fragment of music is that it is a myth. The Library in Dresden never had that piece of music to have left behind a fragment.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adagio_i...

But yes, I agree with Nancy. "It was meant to give us those glimpses of humanity and not more."


message 44: by Rose (last edited Mar 05, 2010 03:13PM) (new)

Rose (roseo) I think the book was about how humans reacted to the constant suffering, violence and loss around them during war. Any war really. But this city especially because they were surrounded and had no way out. Like fish in a barrel there's no way to run.

The incident with the cellist was just a small part of the story, really, although he and his music had a HUGE effect on people. It was the single thread that connected all the characters who were otherwise unrelated in any way.


message 45: by Rose (new)

Rose (roseo) #5. Why does Dragan take such drastic measures to prevent the dead man's body from being filmed by the journalist?


message 46: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1271 comments My gut reaction was that Dragan was trying to save a shred of the man's dignity, even in death. Esepcially since he hadn't been able to save him in life.

It is a difficult subject in that sometimes pictures are such a powerful statement and like the cellist's story, put a human face on something so horrific. There are photos of the Vietnam war that have stuck with me - more so that other wars. But perhaps because that was such an impressionable time in my life - graduating from high school and watching friends get drafted. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to be the one who's immortalized by a photo journalist after I die.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I think Dragan didn't want the world to think Sarajevo was just a place where people get killed. Each of the characters loved Sarajevo before the siege for its beauty and its way of life. I think Dragan, somehow, hoped that Sarajevo would still be thought of that way and that if the world saw a dead man in the street it would be all gone forever.


message 48: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany | 92 comments One of the things I found refreshing about this book was the simplicity of the story. Each character was motivated by something different, but each motivation was shaped by the war. Separating the plot into alternating chapters, instead of co-mingling the stories of each character, gives the book a kind of purity that you don't find very often. The thread that brings the characters together in a human way is music.


message 49: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1271 comments Good point Tiffany - I just really like the way the book was written. The simplicity made it more powerful, maybe because it allows the reader to fill in their own blanks. The separate stories allowed me to see characters from diverse ages and backgrounds. But they shared a common grief for the loss of their previous lives and a dream to return to their former selves.


message 50: by Rose (last edited Mar 07, 2010 10:17AM) (new)

Rose (roseo) Rose wrote: "#5. Why does Dragan take such drastic measures to prevent the dead man's body from being filmed by the journalist?"

Up until that point, Dragan didn't "act" but reacted with fear. When he and Emina dicussed why does the cellist play, Dragan thought he did it because he wanted "to do what he can". I think you are right, it felt like the ultimate indignity to have a dead man in the street of the Sarajevo he loved. It was all he (Dragan) could do.


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