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Book 12 Completed

February 11, 2010

The premise for this book is simple — in a war-torn Sarajevo, an attack kills 22 people waiting in line to buy bread. A cellist, moved by this loss of life, decides to play at the bombing site for 22 days. The novel follows four characters as they move through daily life in Sarajevo during the city’s nearly four year siege. Despite the fact that this book is called The Cellist of Sarajevo and the common thread for all the characters is the cellist playing in the street — in full view of the snipers out for his blood — it isn’t that story that drew me into this simple, but harrowing story. As a matter of fact, don’t let the title mislead you: I found the cellist’s role in this novel insignificant. Some people say that the book teaches about the humanity of war by having people connect over the beauty of music. That is not what I took from this book at all. 

Let me state up-front: There are aspects of this book that are flawed. While the writing was good, it seemed to drag in places. The ending left me wanting. While the characters were believable and I became invested in their lives, there wasn’t enough of a difference between the two men (Kenan and Dragan) out there on the street — without the chapter headings, I doubt I would have been able to tell their stories apart. And the novel is extraordinarily heavy-handed: War sucks. I heard it loud and clear. (Although, there was an attempt to humanize both sides and blur the line between the good guys and the bad guys…which I appreciate — as war is hardly ever as black and white as it appears on the evening news). 

However, even with all of those negatives, I would still recommend this book. When one of the characters relays his disappointment toward the international community for leaving them abandoned, realizing that no one is coming to help them, I hurt for Bosnia. While reading I was able to place myself into that city, during that time, and imagine my life — waking up and strapping water jugs on my back to endure a gauntlet of snipers so my children can drink? The fear of stepping into an intersection? Hoping that the person who just stepped out into the street, that stranger, will die so that you may get to live? I found that Galloway kept me wrapped up in Sarajevo and these character’s plights — I finished the book in a day. (I know, even if it has taken me longer to blog about it.)

Sure, there are plenty of powerful books out there that wax philosophical about war; since Galloway is Canadian and (to the best of my knowledge) didn’t actually spend time in Sarajevo during the siege, his book is more of a universal tale of loss and wartime emotions instead of an attempt to historically depict the city. That is evident in his attempt to clear the novel of any real statements about the cause of the siege or discuss the differences between those in the city and those in the hills.

Nevertheless, his book resonated with me and I think it’s worth picking up sometime.

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