Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Seventeen - The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway

Bosnia - early 1990's - Siege of Sarajevo - Four stories - a cellist, a sniper and two villagers.

After seeing a complete square be flatten by a bomb, the cellist voes to play Albinoni's Adagio for 22 days straight - one day for each person killed. Arrow, the sniper, after trying to take out some soldiers watching the fortress of Vraca is assigned to protect the cellist and take out the enemy sniper. After reporting in that she completed her mission, the headquarters is bombed and her boss is killed.

Kenan, one of the villagers, navigates the streets to get fresh water from the brewery for his family and his elderly neighbor. The brewery is shelled and he barely makes it back across the bridge and to his family.

Dragan, the other villager, runs into his friend Emina while walking to work. As he starts to cross an intersection, he is almost hit by a sniper. As Emina starts to cross, she is hit by a sniper and taken to the local hospital.

Arrow, Kenan and Dragan end up hearing the cellist play on his last day.

Galloway, Steven. The Cellist of Sarajevo. Riverhead Hardcover (2008). 256 pages. ISBN 1594489866.
This book was a good intimate portrait of wartime conditions and how a person's priorities change. As I was reading this book - I felt like I was right there on the streets of Sarajevo. All of the characters dreamt of Sarajevo before the war and wanted to stay during the war even if that means they would die.

Many buildings were shelled during this standoff including the National Library. One Bosnian librarian described the scene as follows:

Twenty-five mortar shells struck the building, along with forty shells that were dropped on nearby streets in order to prevent the fire department from reaching the library…The next day the sky was dark with smoke, while across the city, pages and small bits of burned books sailed through the air…Over 1,200,000 books and 600,000 serials, as well as all the catalogs that had been constructed over the course of years, computer equipment, microfilm and photo labs, and
administrative documents, were all burned.
Researching some items for this blog post, I found that an excerpt from the book was posted on npr.org last December.

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