Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

I am a big fan of Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, and I decided to read The Cellist of Sarajevo when Yann mentioned it as one of his favorites in an interview he once did. I think I see why Yann would have been attracted to this story as it does have some parallels to his works, especially Life of Pi.

In Cellist, Galloway is exploring the the thought processes of citizens who try to understand what it is like to live in a country that was once yours but now belongs to no one. Yann's Piscine went through a similar self-exploration as he tried to find who he was after losing everything he knew except for a few zoo animals. In Pi, a man is adrift at sea. In Cellist, citizens are adrift at war.

Galloway was inspired by the story of a Cellist, Vedron Smailovic, who played his cello for twenty-two days in dangerous grounds to honor the twenty-two people he saw massacred during the actual siege of Sarajevo. The story Cellist, follows three fictional characters: Kenan, Dragan, and Arrow. They are all native Sarajevans who survive the siege in disparate ways. Kenan is a young man who must go on a long hike every four days to get water for his family; Dragan, an older man whose family has fled to Italy, works at a bakery which the citizens depend on for survival; and Arrow, a female sniper whose skills are superior to anyone else and is sought out to do other people's dirty work. All three characters find themselves drawn to hear the the cellist play for the same root reason: he is a symbol of hope that Sarajevo will return once again just as he returns to play day after day despite the risks he may face.

While I enjoyed reading this story, I found myself primarily motivated to see how the characters would each be connected to the cellist in the end, as that is the purpose of the story I inferred as I read. I was most intrigued by Arrow who seemed to go through the most transformation throughout the story from cold-blooded killer to repented fugitive. The characters' connections to the cellist were mostly figurative as the three characters all called on his image as a source of strength to persevere their respective circumstances. The reader learns that no one has any real connection to the cellist. He just simply comes and goes like clock work.

I would recommend reading this book as it is a quick read and gives you an idea of what a country under siege is like--the longest a country has ever under siege in modern history--and how thankful we all can be for our freedoms and perhaps a respect for just how fragile they truly are.

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