This novel begins during the Bosnian war in the city of Sarajevo. The cellist's piece is a focal point for what all citizens hope Sarajevo can transform back into after the war. Following the story from three different perspectives gives an outlook of the war that is meant to preserve the humanity of the survivors.
A novel of great intensity and power, The Cellist of Sarajevo brilliantly explores how war can change one’s definition of humanity, how music affects our emotional endurance, and how a romance with the rituals of daily life can itself be a form of resistance.Inspired by the actions of a real cellist during the siege of Sarajevo, the fictional story is a haunting and beautiful tribute to the endurance of humanity in the face of merciless horror.
Galloway’s characters weigh the value of their
lives against the choices they must make, he
effectively creates a fifth character in the city
itself, capturing the details among the rubble
and destruction that give added weight to his
This novel is very detailed int he descriptoin of the city. Each character has a different perspective on how they view Sarajevo. Mostly there are two faces to Sarajevo. First, Sarajevo is described as a happy place filled with friendly faces and neighbors. Now, it is viewed as a destruction of what Sarajevo was and will never be.
He forced himself to open his eyes and look through the hole. He knew there was a foreign
sniper, perhaps, and what was probably a decoy in another window. Two girls brought flowers and
stopped to listen, and the sniper knew that he could easily kill them, too. But he did not shoot them, and
he did not shoot the cellist. He let the song finish and then left.
The song was desperately melancholy, and yet carried a weighty hope upon its back. The sniper
was transported away from the war. He saw his first girlfriend trying to lick ice cream off of her nose. The
noisy games of ball in the streets that brought itchy scabs and dirty knees. His warm bed at home where
no fleas crept through the sheets to burrow into his skin. Learning to whistle through his hands. His
mother whispering into his ear as she folded him into her arms.
Kenan, a veritable everyman, has far more practical concerns. Amidst shelling and sniper fire, his sole task is to travel across the ravaged city to fetch water for his family and an ungrateful neighbor. The trip is eventful and harrowing. In a particularly transitional moment during his errand, Kenan hears the mournful strains of an adagio and asks himself, “What could the man possibly hope to accomplish by playing music in the street?”
Kenan's humanity is preserved by the sole responsibility of fetching water. If Kenan broke the promise to his elderly neighbor by discontinuing to fetch her water, Kenan would not be as hopeful for the citizens of Sarajevo to help others survive. Kenan is providing an example of how people should act out of common decencey even in the state of war.
Dragan is an older man who has sent his wife and son to safety in Italy, and now regrets losing his own opportunity to escape. His way of coping with the unbearable is to shut down: "He's stopped talking to his friends, visits no one, avoids those who come to visit him. He can perhaps learn to bear the destruction of buildings, but the destruction of the living is too much for him."
In particular, he zeroes in on three protagonists whose lives are touched in some way by the cellist's act of defiance. Arrow feels she's become a different person as a result of the conflict. Once a gifted athlete (a crack shot on her university shooting team), she's now a hardened killer who defends the city by picking off the snipers in the hills. But she holds onto the hope that she might be able to resume her old life when the war ends, and using a nom de guerre is her way of separating her two identities.
His “statement” is a threat to the enemy of snipers on the hill. However, where he sits, while outside and exposed, is not exposed to the hills where the snipers hide and shoot. They cannot kill him from above, so they will send a top-flight sniper into the city to where he plays. For both sides this event of the cellist’s 22 days of playing is an important statement. Those in power within the city are resolved to protect the cellist if at all possible, and this can only be done by a counter-sniper who can killer the sniper they know will be sent.
A main character whom we never meet is supposedly this musician who discovered Albinoni’s music in Dresden and who is himself a citizen of Sarajevo and the principal cellist in the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. After a horrible incident in which 22 died in a bomb blast, he resolves to return to war-torn Sarajevo and each day for 22 days, to sit outside and play Albinoni’s Adagio as a symbol of the better things in life and to reflect the old world of normalcy in Sarajevo.
Like the citizens of Sarajevo, living comes naturally when life is easy. Prior to the bombshell, people made various choices and decisions about how to spend their time, and they enjoyed themselves. They were living life. It is after the tragedy that creates the book that the citizens of Sarajevo must actively decide whether they will continue living, or choose to simply survive.