Nic ~ The Cellist of Sarajevo

18 03 2009

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

This book is the fictional account of 3 peoples lives that is based on a true story.  From what I know, in the early 90’s there was a series of bombings in Sarajevo, killing thousands.  One of these bombs killed 22 of Vedran Smailovic’s friends and neighbors.  Smailovic is an accomplished cellist, and in response; in mourning to these bombings, he sat outside in the square where his friends had died and played for 22 days

This book takes a fictional approach at looking at the aftermath in these 22 days as the cellist plays.  We are taken into the minds of two different survivors, forced to finally go out into the war torn land to gather food and water.  As well, working under the directives of the city we meet Arrow,  a calculated sniper assigned to protect the cellist no matter what she has to do.

This story affected me in ways I hadn’t really realized I was affect-able.  Horrible, inexplicable and unwarranted acts of violence take place all over the world, all the time.  And although I hear of it, and I see visions of war torn streets in foreign lands, see the massacre, visions are all they were.  As much as it pains me, as much an atrocity as I see these acts as being, I never was able to even remotely understand how people lived in these circumstances, what life was like.  This book gave me an slight glimpse of what that life would be like, and a slight glimpse was more than terrifying form me.  Galloway did his homework; he gathered much information of the Siege of Sarajevo (currently the longest lasting city siege in the history of modern warfare) and spoke to many former residents of Sarajevo.  He manages to show the heart of these people, show their love for their land, show their hope that keeps pushing them onward, minutes after minute, day after day.

We are taken into these 3 survivor’s thoughts, taken into their views of the war, shown what inexplicably keeps them going, gives them a solitude in the struggle to keep their heads afloat and survive.  They survive for hope, for love, for fear, for hatred.  All 3 of these characters are walking throughout the empty shadows that were their lives, re-adjusting to their new lives, accepting what has become their reality.  All are hopeful, yet all are devoid of hope.  And yet, they are all feeling pained at being devoid of hope.  I found this to be a very interesting pull of this story.  If I were in their position, would I be so different?  No, and yes.  I believe that I wold be hopeful and yet devoid of hope.  But am I so sure in myself that I would feel pained that I had given up?  I haven’t the slightest idea that I would be able to count myself among those that are that strong.  And I suppose, that therein, is the switch in thinking when presented with situations such as these, when you are among the survivors, because you have made a choice, be it a conscious one or not.

There are so many people, moving about separately, yet all together in one direction.  So many people pressing onward, yet unsure as to what, inherently trusting that something will change.  And in this is the reason for the Cellist to daily risk himself to play for those innocents, that not only he, but a entire country lost.  He does what he knows, he plays to remind himself that is it his land, that those oppressing him are not his oppressors if he does not permit them to be.  He plays to promise himself that life can go on, to convince, if only himself, that there is still more strength, more courage left to fight, to shed light in streets that haven’t seen it in weeks, to lose himself in the notes that lay out the memories of what were, what is, and what will come to be.

I’m not sure who I would recommend this book to, to be honest.  I am quite certain that not all people would appreciate it, although I wish that everyone would.  It is a bit slow moving, yet almost too fast pasted all at once.  It is violent, and discouraging, yet bears a message of peace and a promise that amidst all the pain, hope and encouragement can prevail, even if you are not the one to be living in it at the time being.  Read it if you want a dose of reality, and if you want to remember that even in desperate times of conflict, the human spirit can not only survive, but prevail.