Published March 2009 by Penguin Group, audio January 2010 by Naxos Audiobooks
Source: my audio copy from my local library sale
Narrator: Gareth Armstrong
Sarajevo, in the 1990s, is a hellish place. The ongoing war devours human life, tears families apart and transforms even banal routines, such as acquiring water, into life-threatening expeditions. Day after day, a cellist stations himself in the midst of the devastation, defying the ever-present snipers to play tributes to victims of a massacre. A true story of a cellist's resistance helps to form this pivotal event in Steven Galloway's extraordinary novel. Against this, the author touchingly describes three ordinary townspeople and their efforts to retain their humanity, sanity and autonomy as war takes hold of their lives.
|Sarajevo before the siege|
The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in history, longer than the siege of Stalingrad, longer than the siege of Leningrad.
|Sarajevo during the siege|
Galloway does a fine job of bringing these three characters' struggles, and the struggles of all people living through war, to life. No fresh water, intermittent (at best) electricity, a black market that thrives while the general population starves, the inability to ever feel truly safe.
He touches only briefly on the humanity of those "men on the hill" and the horrific actions of the defending the city who use their own people in a propaganda campaign to draw attention to their plight. Some might have a problem with the book not giving a more complete look at all sides of the siege or a problem with the book not being factually accurate. I don't look to a work of fiction for the full story, I look to it for a window into a full story. And good work will, like this one did, encourage me to learn more on my own.
In the afterword of The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway writes:
" At four o'clock in the afternoon on May 27, 1992, during the Siege of Sarajevo, several mortar shells struck a group of people waiting to buy bread behind the market on Vase Miskina. Twenty-two people were killed and at least seventy were wounded. For the next twenty-two days Vedran Smailovic, a renowned local cellist, played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor at the site in honor of the dead. His actions inspired this novel."
Which isn't entirely true.
Accounts vary with the dead numbering either 16 or 22 and the time of day was morning, not afternoon. According to UN peacekeepers was not the work of Bosnian Serbs who had laid siege to the city but a "command-detonated explosion" set by the Muslims in charge in the city in an effort to to gain support for the city.
Vedran Smailovic did play at the site of the market attack but he did not play everyday there at the same time. "I am not stupid. I wasn't looking to get shot by snipers so I varied my routine." Further, Smailovic did not limit his musical protest to that particular site. He played at ruins throughout the city and a funerals which were often targeted for attack.
Have I mentioned before how much I love a book that makes me want to learn more? Even if I had not enjoyed this book, I would have appreciated the fact that it had me wanting to learn more about Vedran Smailovic and the siege of Sarajevo.