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The Cellist of Sarajevo [Deckle Edge] [Paperback]

Steven Galloway
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 12 2009 0307397041 978-0307397041
This brilliant novel with universal resonance tells the story of three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst.

One day a shell lands in a bread line and kills twenty-two people as the cellist watches from a window in his flat. He vows to sit in the hollow where the mortar fell and play Albinoni’s Adagio once a day for each of the twenty-two victims. The Adagio had been re-created from a fragment after the only extant score was firebombed in the Dresden Music Library, but the fact that it had been rebuilt by a different composer into something new and worthwhile gives the cellist hope.

Meanwhile, Kenan steels himself for his weekly walk through the dangerous streets to collect water for his family on the other side of town, and Dragan, a man Kenan doesn’t know, tries to make his way towards the source of the free meal he knows is waiting. Both men are almost paralyzed with fear, uncertain when the next shot will land on the bridges or streets they must cross, unwilling to talk to their old friends of what life was once like before divisions were unleashed on their city. Then there is “Arrow,” the pseudonymous name of a gifted female sniper, who is asked to protect the cellist from a hidden shooter who is out to kill him as he plays his memorial to the victims.

In this beautiful and unforgettable novel, Steven Galloway has taken an extraordinary, imaginative leap to create a story that speaks powerfully to the dignity and generosity of the human spirit under extraordinary duress.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Canadian Galloway (Ascension) delivers a tense and haunting novel following four people trying to survive war-torn Sarajevo. After a mortar attack kills 22 people waiting in line to buy bread, an unnamed cellist vows to play at the point of impact for 22 days. Meanwhile, Arrow, a young woman sniper, picks off soldiers; Kenan makes a dangerous trek to get water for his family; and Dragan, who sent his wife and son out of the city at the start of the war, works at a bakery and trades bread in exchange for shelter. Arrow's assigned to protect the cellist, but when she's eventually ordered to commit a different kind of killing, she must decide who she is and why she kills. Dragan believes he can protect himself through isolation, but that changes when he runs into a friend of his wife's attempting to cross a street targeted by snipers. Kenan is repeatedly challenged by his fear and a cantankerous neighbor. All the while, the cellist continues to play. With wonderfully drawn characters and a stripped-down narrative, Galloway brings to life a distant conflict. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"For historians, the siege of Sarajevo might seem the appropriate finale of the century that invented world wars, nuclear arms and planet destruction. That is precisely the reason why Sarajevo should belong to artists and not experts. In this vivid, passionate and generous novel Galloway takes us there, to the very streets of the besieged city. Snipers above us, cameras among us, shards of dreams beneath us, and each wrong step can lead to death or, worse, loss of dignity."
—Dragan Todorovic, author of The Book of Revenge

"Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo is a wonderful story, a tribute to the human spirit in the face of insanity."
—Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland and Paradise Alley

"A gripping story of Sarajevo under siege."
—J. M. Coetzee

“I cannot imagine a lovelier, more beautifully wrought book about the depravity of war as The Cellist of Sarajevo. Each chapter is a brief glimpse at yet another aspect of the mind, the heart, the soul -- altogether Galloway gives us fine, deep notes of human music which will remain long after the final page.”
— ZZ Packer

“Though the setting is the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, this gripping novel transcends time and place.  It is a universal story, and a testimony to the struggle to find meaning, grace, and humanity, even amid the most unimaginable horrors.” –Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

“Steven Galloway is a precocious writer of astonishing talent and creative imagination whose third novel lives up, in every respect, to the high bar set by his first two. The Cellist of Sarajevo captures with taut, painstaking clarity the events and atmosphere surrounding the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. . . . Galloway once again shows himself to be as gifted as he is fearless. If it weren’t for the fact that he teaches creative writing, I’d say it was time to give up his day job.”
— Emily Donaldson, Quill & Quire (starred review)

“A darkly powerful novel about the insanity of war, the anonymous dying of a city under siege. Written with elegance and style, it is an unforgettable story about our limitless human spirit in a time of tragedy.” –Owen Sound Sun Times

“A story that speaks to the dignity and generosity of the human spirit under duress.” –The Guelph Mercury

“Gripping. . . . Every action, no matter how mundane, is charged with tension. . . . Galloway has shown that contemporary fiction can move beyond the minute examination of self and relationship. We are asked to gaze, instead, on a city, a society, in the process of being destroyed, and on the tiny human gestures that represent the only means to repair the damage.” –National Post

“Although Galloway’s characters weigh the value of their lives against the choices they must make, he effectively creates a fifth character in the city itself, capturing the details among the rubble and destruction that give added weight to his memorable novel.” –Booklist

“Undeniably suspenseful.” –The Sydney Morning Herald

“A grand and powerful novel about how people retain or reclaim their humanity when they are under extreme duress.” –Yann Martel’s pick for

“Galloway delivers a tense and haunting novel. . . . With wonderfully drawn characters and a stripped-down narrative, Galloway brings to life a distant conflict.” - Publishers Weekly

“A novel about trying to cross the street. The description, though, does not do justice to Galloway’s spare, elegant prose or to the haunting images the author creates in this fine and affecting novel.” –Edmonton Journal

“At once an expansion and a deepening of the thematic concerns that weave themselves throughout his work and a glittering testament to the power of art to counteract hatred and division. . . . Galloway’s novel, bursting with life, is a vivid reminder of the power of art to dispel the darkness.” –The Vancouver Sun

“[V]ery nearly perfect, a galvanizing examination of the strength of the human heart, and the possibility of the survival of the human spirit in the most dire of circumstances. It will be impossible for readers not to imagine themselves in these characters’ shoes, wondering what they would do in similar circumstances. That personalization, which creates an understanding of a tragedy previously only glanced over in the pages of the morning paper, is, in itself, the highest of achievements.” –Ottawa Citizen

“Written in visceral, cinematic prose . . . Galloway’s compassionate story about the consequences of war is riveting from beginning to end. It will undoubtedly linger in the minds of many readers long after they finish it.” –Winnipeg Free Press

“Sensuous and precise, Galloway’s prose captures the unbidden movement between personal and public space, the contradiction of being trapped in a city one would not think of leaving, even if one could. This portrayal of what it’s like to live in the despair of the present, but with an unkillable knowledge that things can be otherwise, is what connects Galloway’s characters–and his novel–with the mission and the legacy of the cellist of its title.” –The Globe and Mail

“Perfect in that way only a true story can be. . . . [Galloway] is a surprisingly mature and self-confident storyteller. . . . His writing is meticulous and purposeful. War may be hell, but in this novel it’s an unsentimental, almost pedestrian hell and all the more compelling for it. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a sombre, stirring performance.” –The Gazette (Montreal)

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Must Read This Book July 18 2008
By MacFly
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway is a tremendous book. Set in Sarajevo during the siege of the city in the 1990s, the story is told from the perspective of three citizens of the city. To hear them talking about the way the city was before the siege and the average lives that they had before the war started is heartbreaking. Each and every day is a struggle to survive while trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life. The center of the story is about a cellist who plays to play every day for 22 days in a spot where 22 people were killed while standing in a line hoping for bread. He becomes a light for the darkness in a city of people desperate for something beautiful. While I found the story incredibly sad, it was also hopeful and reminds one of the role of the human spirit in any conflict. This is one of those books that will stay with me for quite some time. While a work of fiction, there are many elements that are true to this conflict. It made it look at it in a very different way that what you feel simply from news reports. I recommend this book to everyone.
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and Incredible Aug. 31 2008
By Spudwil
Everyone should read this book. I couldn't put it down; my kids had to forage for their own dinner one night because I just had to keep reading. From the great character development and suspenseful plot to the amazingly hopeful and satisfying ending, this book will take you through the whole spectrum of emotions. I love how it is concise and to the point, making it an easy read for everyone. Not a page is wasted on unnecessary tangents off the storyline and the reader feels as if he is right there in the rubble with the characters, feeling their fear and despair. Such a great lesson in humanity, hope, and the perils and senselessness of war. My hat is off to the author.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Marvelous Book of Enduring Themes Amidst War July 19 2008
This book alternately mesmerizes and inflames. Its depiction of the siege of Sarajevo manages to tell something universal and quotidian at the same time. Its universal themes of life, death, hope, and despair are delicately balanced by its success in providing a sense of the everyday lives of a handful of Sarajevans seeking to negotiate the dangerous streets and byways of this war-torn city. The cellist of Sarajevo, nowhere given a name, serves as a magnet for sociality and a center for wide-ranging commentary and interpretation. For many, his actions serve as a mirror to the souls of the city's inhabitants and their estimate of the possibilities for a better future beyond war. The work is also a trenchant critique of the ravages of war and their impact on the humanity of all the combatants.

For these reasons and so many more, it is so sad that the real-life Cellist of Sarajevo has taken umbrage at this book's publication. His outrage toward the book and its author mistakes the role of the fictional cellist as the central figure in the book and therefore an assessment of his motives. It is really the characters who go about their daily lives amidst the devastation, risking their chance death by the hands of the mountain snipers, and yet mustering the courage to hope beyond the seemingly hopeless situation who are the true heroes. It is they--Dragan, Emina, Kenan, and ultimately Arrow--more than he who in this book find resources among the ruins of their formerly lovely city to keep on going and discover forbearance in universal things that matter to us all if we are to retain our humanity, when anger, hatred, and violence would be the greater temptation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A small masterpiece by Steven Galloway Aug. 3 2009
By R. Nicholson TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although a work of fiction, this book's founding premise is based on a real life event. To quote from the 'afterword'...

"At four o'clock on the afternoon on 27 May 1992, during the siege of Sarajevo, several mortar shells struck a group of people waiting to buy bread...twenty two people where killed...For the next twenty two days Vedran Samilovic, a renowned local cellist, play Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor at the local site in honor of the dead."

Galloway uses this horrific event and Samilovic's heroic gesture to give us a glimpse of the spirit human...replete with all its unsuspected strengths and soul-searching frailties.

The story sequentially follows three individuals during the span of days that the cellist is playing the Adagio.
They are Kenan, a father with wife and children who must make a dangerous trek every few days to get clean water for his family and neighbor.
Dragan, a sixty four year old who, because he works at a bakery, is able to get bread on a regular basis for his sister and husband.
And Arrow, a female sniper whose growing reputation for 'kills' is about to put her in a situation that will profoundly change the way in which she looks at and interprets her own existence.

And although the three individuals never meet, they are indelibly connected by the events happening within the besieged city and, in a more remote sense, by the fact that someone (the cellist) is trying to make a gesture to honor the fallen.

Galloway's book is special; special because he is able to cut to the chase when describing peoples most private thoughts when under duress. Each of the three protagonist is wrapped up in an series of tragic events over which they have no control but yet has profoundly changed their lives.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
It was a very difficult book to read because nothing has really changed there.
Published 29 days ago by sheila robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good read!
This was an excellent book to read...the characters' inner worlds can only be shared in a book.
We are all human but don't see each other as equal and precious. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Carol
4.0 out of 5 stars Intersting read
First I was in Sarajevo last fall & saw the market where all the people were killed. I felt it was a sad city still. So I was most interested to read the book. Read more
Published 4 months ago by smv
2.0 out of 5 stars A war book
It was not that book what I expected to be.Which is pitty. They tell you to much about that terrible war.
Published 6 months ago by Adriaan Schreuder
5.0 out of 5 stars A mystery amidst the danger
Once started, this book is hard to put down. Although a work of fiction, it is a vivid portrayal of life in Sarajevo under siege during the war in the Balkans when the simple act... Read more
Published 13 months ago by lindelewis
1.0 out of 5 stars I was VERY dissappointed with the service!
I have purchased the kindle version of the book as I didn't have time to go to store or the library. The book refused to download! Read more
Published 14 months ago by Ivana Vasak
5.0 out of 5 stars A gift for a fan.
My mother is a fan of this author and as such this made an excellent gift. She very much appreciated the fact that it could be shipped directly to her.
Published 15 months ago by George Toumishey
5.0 out of 5 stars such a sweet story
This is a very touching story within a grim setting. I liked it very much and will recommend it for my book club.
Published 15 months ago by Sarah Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cellist of Sarajevo
Interesting and thoughtful read regarding Sarajevo in times of war. I liked how the different characters were dealt with throughout the book.
Published on Aug. 19 2012 by s
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Besieged Identities
I found this novel very fresh and original both in terms of its style and content. Galloway effectively explores how the siege of Sarajevo implies that its people's identity is... Read more
Published on Dec 19 2011 by PeterJ
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