Top critical review
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Good, but not great
on January 27, 2010
[Cross posted to LibraryThing and LivingSocial]
The Cellist of Sarajevo is not really about a cellist, though it is the cellist's music that provides the unifying thread between the three main characters. Arrow, a young female sniper, has compromised her beliefs and basically given up her youth in the siege. We follow her over the course of the cellist's 22 days as she watches him and protects him. Dragan is an older man whose family has fled to safety while he stayed behind and now isn't sure what he has left to live for. Kenan still has his family and struggles every day to provide for them and maintain some semblance of happiness.
Ultimately, I didn't love the book and don't necessarily agree that it's a masterpiece. That being said, it was very good. Maybe I was expecting the book to be something other than what it was: I was expecting more of a plot-driven story and, given the title, I was expecting more a focus on the cellist himself. Instead, the book alternated between Arrow, Dragan, and Kenan and was much more character driven. There are moments of suspense and tension, but the focus is on exploring these people's experiences of the siege, their different coping strategies, the sacrifices and compromises they have to make on a daily basis. Galloway does a very good job with these themes but, as one of my book club members said about the experience, it felt like the book was building towards something that never materialized.
The writing was sparse, vivid and at times, beautiful, but I felt that the Arrow sections could have been much better. It seemed like Galloway was trying too hard with them, maybe because she was the only female character? Arrow as a character also left me cold, though I suspect that may have been the intended response. Because most of the book was more reflective, the moments when action occurred were that much more intense. I actually gasped at one point and got a bit queasy at another.
In the end, I think the book is worth the read. The ideas that Galloway explores are interesting and it makes you think about how you would react in a similar situation, at the same time praying that you never have to experience anything like it.