Mar 15, 2010

10) The Cellist of Sarajevo

Original Title: The Cellist of Sarajevo
Turkish Title: Saraybosna’nın Çellisti
English Title: The Cellist of Sarajevo
Author: Steven Galloway
Pages: 203
Rating: 5/5
Applicable Challenges: 50 Books A Year, The 50 Books Challenge
I recently joined GoodReads website and one of the groups I came across was “Chicks on Lit”. I was trying to understand how the group functioned and what was going on. Meanwhile I was listening to “Bosnia” by The Cranberries. When Dolores was singing/shouting “Sarajevo, Sarajevo”, I was reading the book of the month of “Chicks on Lit” group. The book was “The Cellist of Sarajevo”. It was such a coincidence. I didn’t hesitate even for a second to join the group. I didn’t know what the book was about, who the author was until I actually bought the book. Now I’m really happy about this coincidence as I really liked the book. After the boring book of Halide’s Gift, it made me breathe.
A quote from the book: “Why do you suppose he’s there? Is he playing for the people who died? Or is he playing for the people who haven’t? What does he hope to accomplish?”

The book is about the stories of four people during the siege of Sarajevo: 1) An unnamed cellist who sat in a square for 22 consecutive days to play his cello for 22 people. These 22 people were killed by a mortar shell while they were queuing to buy bread in May 1992. 2) Dragan, a man who managed to send his wife and son to Italy before the outbreak of the war and living with his sister and her husband. 3) Kenan, a responsible family man with two little kids. He has to walk a long way to get water for his family and a selfish neighbour. 4) Arrow, a young woman working as a sniper for the forces within the city. She is doing what she has to do but she is never willing to tell her real name.

The cellist is the intersection for Dragan, Kenan and Arrow. How these four different characters and stories unite is the imagination of the author, Steven Galloway.
I was literally crying when I reached the final pages of this book. It was a really moving novel for me and I had to spare some time to myself before I get back to real world, before I move myself away from the bombs falling on Sarajevo. I managed to read it in less than a day and totally loved it.

After I read the book, I also took some time to read the critics and other reviews about the book. A great number of people found the story very similar to that of the movie, “The Pianist”. I agree with the similarity but I don’t agree with those who claim that the author didn’t add anything. Galloway was inspired by a real story: The story of Vedran Smailović. He did play his cello every day at 4:00 pm for 22 days to honour 22 people who were killed by the bomb in the market place. The other three main characters of the book were his imagination. I really liked the flow and how each story is linked to that of the cellist.

I’m not sure about the historical background given in the book. Some argue that it was misleading. I didn’t read it as a historical novel so the the chronology of the events did not grasp my attention. I really felt sorry for Galloway when I read that a Bosnian writer, Nenad Veliceovic shouted at him and told “Go home and write about Canada. You know nothing about Sarajevo”. As I do not know much about what really happened in Sarajevo, I do not have much to say about this. Still, Galloway could have given the list of sources he had used to avoid such criticism. In my opinion, if the real events are used in a novel, the sources used should be listed somewhere.

The only thing missing in this story was about the cellist. I believe the author wants the reader to decide why he is there, playing his cello, risking his life everyday. I really wanted to answer this question but with the details provided about the cellist, it is just impossible. There is no base to rely on to understand him.

All in all, if a lot has been said about a book just like this one, that means the book managed to provoke people in a way. It impressed me in a very emotional way and no matter how fragile the historical base of the story is, it is a good book!

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