The Cellist of Sarajevo
By Steven Galloway
(Riverhead Trade, Paperback, 9781594483653, 256pp.)
Publication Date: March 31, 2009
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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 flash, they are killed by a mortar attack. In an act of defiance, the man picks up his cello and decides to play at the site of the shelling for twenty-two days, honoring their memory. Elsewhere, a young man leaves home to collect drinking water for his family and, in the face of danger, must weigh the value of generosity against selfish survivalism. A third man, older, sets off in search of bread and distraction and instead runs into a long-ago friend who reminds him of the city he thought he had lost, and the man he once was. As both men are drawn into the orbit of cello music, a fourth charactera young woman, a sniperholds the fate of the cellist in her hands. As she protects him with her life, her own army prepares to challenge the kind of person she has become.
A novel of great intensity and power, and inspired by a true story, The Cellist of Sarajevo poignantly explores how war can change one’s definition of humanity, the effect of music on our emotional endurance, and how a romance with the rituals of daily life can itself be a form of resistance.
Steven Galloway lives in British Columbia and teaches creative writing at the University of British Coumbia.
- What effect does the constant confrontation of war and occupation have on each narrator? Does suffering, violence and loss ever become normalized for them? What is it like to live in this kind of anarchy—especially when symbols of peace and power have been extinguished (the eternal flame from WWII, the Kosovo Olympic stadium now used as a burial ground)? And what does it mean to have the color, beauty, and vibrancy of music and flowers (left behind for the cellist) introduced?
“An exquisite novel of war and loss...The book feels vividly created...an elegant and ever fragile work of art.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
—Los Angeles Times
“Indelible imagery and heartbreaking characters.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Tense and haunting.”
“Though the setting is the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, this gripping novel transcends time and place. It is a universal story, and a testimony to the struggle to find meaning, grace, and humanity, even amid the most unimaginable horrors.” —Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns
“I cannot imagine a lovelier, more beautifully wrought book about the depravity of war as The Cellist of Sarajevo. Each chapter is a brief glimpse at yet another aspect of the mind, the heart, the soul—altogether Galloway gives us fine, deep notes of human music which will remain long after the final page.” —ZZ Packer, author of Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
“A grand and powerful novel about how people retain or reclaim their humanity when they are under extreme duress.” —Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi
“A gripping story of Sarajevo under siege.” —J. M. Coetzee, author of Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year
“Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo is a wonderful story, a tribute to the human spirit in the face of insanity.” —Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland and Paradise Alley