The Cellist Of Sarajevo by Steven Gallowaysticker-burst

The Cellist Of Sarajevo

bySteven Galloway

Paperback | February 6, 2009

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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.

About The Author

Steven Galloway is the author of Finnie Walsh, Ascension and The Cellist of Sarajevo.
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Details & Specs

Title:The Cellist Of SarajevoFormat:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 7.99 × 5.38 × 0.71 inPublished:February 6, 2009Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307397041

ISBN - 13:9780307397041

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The CellistIt screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expanded in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There was a moment before impact that was the last instant of things as they were. Then the visible world exploded.In 1945, an Italian musicologist found four bars of a sonata’s bass line in the remnants of the firebombed Dresden Music Library. He believed these notes were the work of the seventeenth-century Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni, and spent the next twelve years reconstructing a larger piece from the charred manuscript fragment. The resulting composition, known as Albinoni’s Adagio, bears little resemblance to most of Albinoni’s work and is considered fraudulent by most scholars. But even those who doubt its authenticity have difficulty denying the Adagio’s beauty.Nearly half a century later, it’s this contradiction that appeals to the cellist. That something could be almost erased from existence in the landscape of a ruined city, and then rebuilt until it is new and worthwhile, gives him hope. A hope that, now, is one of a limited number of things remaining for the besieged citizens of Sarajevo and that, for many, dwindles each day.And so today, like every other day in recent memory, the cellist sits beside the window of his second-floor apartment and plays until he feels his hope return. He rarely plays the Adagio. Most days he’s able to feel the music rejuvenate him as simply as if he were filling a car with gasoline. But some days this isn’t the case. If, after several hours, this hope doesn’t return, he will pause to gather himself, and then he and his cello will coax Albinoni’s Adagio out of the firebombed husk of Dresden and into the mortar-pocked, sniper-infested streets of Sarajevo. By the time the last few notes fade, his hope will be restored, but each time he’s forced to resort to the Adagio it becomes harder, and he knows its effect is finite. There are only a certain number of Adagios left in him, and he will not recklessly spend this precious currency.It wasn’t always like this. Not long ago the promise of a happy life seemed almost inviolable. Five years ago at his sister’s wedding, he’d posed for a family photograph, his father’s arm slung behind his neck, fingers grasping his shoulder. It was a firm grip, and to some it would have been painful, but to the cellist it was the opposite. The fingers on his flesh told him that he was loved, that he had always been loved, and that the world was a place where above all else the things that were good would find a way to burrow into you. Though he knew all of this then, he would give up nearly anything to be able to go back in time and slow down that moment, if only so he could more clearly recall it now. He would very much like to feel his father’s hand on his shoulder again.He can tell today won’t be an Adagio day. It has been only a half-hour since he sat down beside the window, but already he feels a little bit better. Outside, a line of people wait to buy bread. It’s been over a week since the market’s had any bread to buy, and he considers whether he might join them. Many of his friends and neighbours are in line. He decides against it, for now. There’s still work to do.It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expanded in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There was a moment before impact that was the last instant of things as they were. Then the visible world exploded.When the mortars destroyed the Sarajevo Opera Hall, the cellist felt as if he were inside the building, as if the bricks and glass that once bound the structure together became projectiles that sliced and pounded into him, shredding him beyond recognition. He was the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. That was what he knew how to be. He made the idea of music an actuality. When he stepped on stage in his tuxedo he was transformed into an instrument of deliverance. He gave to the people who came to listen what he loved most in the world. He was as solid as the vice of his father’s hand.Now he doesn’t care whether anyone hears him play or not. His tuxedo hangs in the closet, untouched. The guns perched on the hills surrounding Sarajevo have dismantled him just as they have the opera hall, just as they have his family home in the night while his father and mother slept, just as they will, eventually, everything.The geography of the siege is simple. Sarajevo is a long ribbon of flat land surrounded on all sides by hills. The men on the hills control all the high ground and one peninsula of level ground in the middle of the city, Grbavica. They fire bullets and mortars and tank shells and grenades into the rest of the city, which is being defended by one tank and small hand-held weapons. The city is being destroyed.The cellist doesn’t know what is about to happen. Initially the impact of the shell won’t even register. For a long time he’ll stand at his window and stare. Through the carnage and confusion he’ll notice a woman’s handbag, soaked in blood and sparkled with broken glass. He won’t be able to tell whom it belongs to. Then he’ll look down and see he has dropped his bow on the floor, and somehow it will seem to him that there’s a great connection between these two objects. He won’t understand what the connection is, but the feeling that it exists will compel him to undress, walk to the closet and pull the dry cleaner’s plastic from his tuxedo.He will stand at the window all night and all through the next day. Then, at four o’clock in the afternoon, twenty-four hours after the mortar fell on his friends and neighbours while they waited to buy bread, he will bend down and pick up his bow. He will carry his cello and stool down the narrow flight of stairs to the empty street. The war will go on around him as he sits in the small crater left at the mortar’s point of impact. He’ll play Albinoni’s Adagio. He’ll do this every day for twenty-two days, a day for each person killed. Or at least he’ll try. He won’t be sure he will survive. He won’t be sure he has enough Adagios left.The cellist doesn’t know any of this now, as he sits at his window in the sun and plays. He isn’t yet aware. But it’s already on its way. It screams downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expands in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There is a moment before impact that is the last instant of things as they are. Then the visible world explodes.From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

"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 www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca“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.