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.