This is a guest post by my friend David, who wrote a review of a book that I feel like reading now!
(2009) The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, Victoria
Pp 227 (paperback)
I don’t know about you, but I really like stories that bring up the best of people in the face of adversaries. And this book certainly does this.
Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo, a 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee and a 2009 BC Book Prize’s Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize finalist, is a fiction story that is based on the true events of Vedran Smajlović’s act of playing Albinoni’s melancholy Adagio in G Minor on his cello for 22 days, in honour of the death of 22 people who had been killed by mortars while queuing for bread. Intriguingly, the Cellist is not the main protagonist of the story, but three individuals who are trying to survive the days of the Siege of Sarajevo; Arrow, a counter-sniper assigned to protect the Cellist from assassination, Kenan, a ‘cowardly’ family man whose mission is to procure water supply from a dangerous part of Sarajevo, and Dragan, an apathetic man numbed by the daily violence and concerned about his free meals.
Divided into four chapters, we see gradual and evident changes in the characters as the story progresses. Arrow becomes more sympathetic towards the enemy, and develops an internal dilemma. At one point, she hesitates on killing the sniper sent by the ‘men on the hills’ (clearly in reference to the Bosnian Serbs) to assassinate the Cellist, because she sees him drawn to the music. Kenan on the other hand, transforms from being a fearful person, to a man of duty and courage. Having experienced death up-close after artillery shells fell near him at a water storage depot which kill and injure many, he tells himself he will not cower anymore and he makes a pledge to be one of the many who will rebuild Sarajevo when the time comes. As for Dragan, his transformation comes after witnessing his friend shot by a sniper and the death of a man who tried to help his friend. Dragan understands the importance of altruism and for the first time, takes action and lifts the body of the man out of the sniper’s fire.
It has been a long while since I have come across a novel that makes me pause at the very end to consider the gravity of the messages the book is trying to tell.
Highly recommended read.