The Cellist of Sarajevo

I recently read The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, a professor at the University of British Columbia. In his shockingly second (he’s a far better writer to have published only two books) book, he explores the lives of four people during the civil, ethnic war in the former country of Yugoslavia.

One of the people is the Cellist, his name is never given, but that is not the important fact, rather it’s that he decides to pay tribute to the twenty-two people who died  while waiting to buy bread by playing, or attempting to, twenty-two straight days to remember the victims.

Arrow, a young college-age girl-turned-sniper against the wishes of her dead father, is struggling about her new identity, does taking the lives of soldiers make her better than those who are killing civilians or the same?

Keran, a husband and father of two, whose life seemingly revolves around staying alive and getting water for his family and his not-so-nice elderly neighbor.

Dragan, a middle-aged man, who has sent his wife and son away to keep them safe from the war, while thinking that if he’s by himself he will have a better chance at surviving the war.

The novel is based on the actions of Vedran Smailovic and an unknown female sniper. It’s interesting how a man that has no ties to a land, a people, a culture, a war, can write such a beautiful novel that captures what some people must have felt and went through. But the book is not without its controversy, Smailovic only became aware of the book when he was browsing through a local bookstore, long after it had been published and the rights sold to Hollywood.

It’s very true that one small, simple act can help many, and the actions of the Cellist (Smailovic) prove that. That such an accomplished musician would think of his fallen countryman, especially because of war partly based on discrimination and mostly because of politics. And without the promise or goal of compensation, other than to give something to your countrymen in a terrible, painful time. It made me wonder, if the situation happened in the States, a constant seige, would someone do something like this? I’m aware that many American musicians, mainly rock groups and country acts, volunteer with the USO and do trips around the world to help the men and women of the armed forces. But putting your life at risk, in the middle of a war zone is a different type of selflessness.

After reading the Cellist of Sarajevo, you can’t be helped but be filled with many different questions ranging from why did it start, to why was it allowed to do so much damage before anyone helped, to how could people do this to each other, etc.


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