Book Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo is a beautiful story, and perhaps a shorter read. I quite enjoyed it.

Book Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo
It's a rare gift to understand that your life is wondrous, and that it won’t last forever.”
― Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo

My Goodreads rating is 4/5, where 5 is reserved for books that have a profound impact on my life.

I absolutely loved this book. From the descriptions of life in the city (both before and during the war), to the internal explorations and character development as each of the three main characters explores who they are and who they've become because of the war. Given my past experiences in war zones, I could certainly sympathise with the characters. I assume Galloway has never actually been in a war zone (which may be quite the assumption on my part), but he's done a convincing job in his research.

I'd picked up the paperback after returning from visiting family in Denver on Christmas, and pushed it on the queue while I (foolishly, perhaps) tried to blunder my way through War and Peace, which only took four months (for comparison, I finished The Cellist of Sarajevo in less than 48 hours; I'd guesstimate it to be around four or so hours of actual reading time, with much of that on the commute). I don't remember the motivation for this, but I ended up getting the Kindle version as well. There's only one quote on Goodreads that I shared because I only read a little bit in the Kindle version, but there were so many other quotes in the book that I wanted to share. Instead, I just kept reading.

The book centres on three characters: Arrow, the sniper; Dragan, the old man on his way to get bread; and Kenan, the man who wants to get water for his family. Sarajevo is a city surrounded by hills, and the men in the hills have laid siege to the town. Snipers and mortars await ordinary citizens trying to get on with their lives. All three of these characters are pitted against these men in the hills, and must survive under threat of violence (and in Arrow's case, with the capability and wherewithal to commit violence). Under the pressures of survival, they're forced to reflect on how the war has changed them, how they came to be who they've become, and whether it's who they want to be. The choices the characters make in guiding their development were key to the story, playing a central role in the plot.

The titular cellist is mourning the twenty-two people killed in a mortar attack while queueing for bread. In remembrance, he's pledged to play Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor for twenty-two days. Each of these three characters is affected by the cellist's music, which has its own effects on their reflections and lives.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is a beautiful story, and perhaps a shorter read. I quite enjoyed it. If you'd like to hear the Albinoni's Adagio, here's one YouTube version.