The Cellist of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway

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Steven Galloway was born in Vancouver in 1975. He is the author of two previous novels. The Cellist of Sarajevo is his first novel to be published in the UK.

The book in one sentence: How life amidst war (the Siege of Sarajevo) is like for three different individuals, who are all touched by the act of the cellist of Sarajevo.

Who would you recommend it to: Someone who likes a good, sad read that leaves you reflecting on life in a more appreciative way. Think Khaled Hosseini’s books.

OK bits: Of the three individuals’ stories, I like the story of Arrow, the female counter-sniper, the best.

Boring bits: Nothing boring, but it is quite slow. The language is simple enough to read but you might find yourself reading again to fully grasp the meaning of the words.

Random review quote:

“This gripping novel transcends time and place… A testimony to the struggle to find meaning, grace, and humanity, even amid the most unimaginable horrors.” – Khaled Hosseini

Verdict: My friend David did a guest post review for this book, which prompted me to look for it. By chance, I found it at a book sale for a really cheap price (RM8, that’s less than USD$3) so I picked it up. My friend is right – this is a good read and I would recommend it too. It’s not mind-blowing in that sense, but the book has a quiet power that affects you.

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Guest Post Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo

This is a guest post by my friend David, who wrote a review of a book that I feel like reading now!

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(2009) The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, Victoria
Pp 227 (paperback)
ISBN 9781921520150

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.

The Rule of Four – Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason

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Ian Caldwell was Phi Beta Kappa in history at Princeton University. He lives in Newport News, Virginia. Dustin Thomason won the Hoopes Prize at Harvard University. He lives in New York City. They began writing The Rule of Four after graduating in 1998. The two have been best friends since they were eight years old.

The book in one sentence: Best friends Tom and Paul unravels a 500-year-old mystery that will astound the world, if they can stay alive while everyone else connected to this book is killed left and right.

Who would you recommend it to: Someone looking for an ‘intellectual’ thriller.

OK bits: I like the whole ‘intellectual’ thriller bit.

Boring bits: Some parts I don’t quite understand. I need to read it another time.

Random review quote:

“A stunning first novel, a perfect blend of suspense and a sensitive coming-of-age story. If Scott Fitzgerald, Umberto Eco, and Dan Brown teamed up to write a novel, the result would be The Rule of Four.” – Nelson DeMille

Verdict: The book is like a blended college version of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I picked up the book for the hype and now I understand why. 🙂

A Spot of Bother – Mark Haddon

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Mark Haddon is an author, illustrator and screenwriter who has written fifteen books for children and won numerous prizes, including two BAFTAs. His novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was a bestseller around the world. It won more than seventeen literary awards, including the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the South Bank Show Book Award, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Mark Haddon’s first collection of poems, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, was published in 2005.

The book in one sentence: George is convinced that the lesion on his hip is cancerous, and he slowly goes insane while his wife continues to have an affair with his ex-colleague, his daughter planning her second wedding and his son dreading to bring his boyfriend to the nuptials.

Who would you recommend it to: People who like hidden meaning in the stories they read. I haven’t figured out the hidden meaning but I’m sure it’s there.

OK bits: I like the fact that it’s about everyday life. He writes about the things the characters do in their daily lives with lots of details and doesn’t gloss over the unpleasant bits of life, like going to the toilet.

Boring bits: It’s quite draggy because he writes so much.

Random review quote:

“Haddon’s style is a reader’s bliss. He writes seamless prose. The words are melted into meaning… Haddon’s gift is to make us look at ourselves when we think we’re looking away, being entertained” – Scotsman

Verdict: I pretty much bought this book on the basis of Haddon’s famous other book and I fell for the cover. I’m a sucker for cute, appealing covers. Since it was only RM12, it wasn’t too much wasted for a book I plan to donate soon. Besides, it wasn’t too bad a read since I managed to finish it and it is hardly the sort of book I would touch otherwise. It is good to read something out of the usual sort you usually do.

Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel

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Laura Esquivel is the award-winning author of Like Water for Chocolate, which has sold over four and a half million copies around the world in thirty-five languages, and was made into a film with a screenplay by the author. She is also the author of The Law of Love and Swift as Desire. She lives in Mexico City.

The book in one sentence: According to Mexican tradition, Tita as the last daughter in the family cannot marry and has to look after her mother for the rest of her life, but the problem is she has found the love of her life, who in his desperate attempt to stay close to her, agreed to marry Tita’s sister…

Who would you recommend it to: People who like to read recipe books and have good imaginations.

OK bits: I enjoyed how the story begins each chapter with a recipe and the instructions to the recipe is infused with the story. I also liked the fantastical element.

Boring bits: Actually, I didn’t care much for the recipes. I love food but I don’t cook. 😛

Random review quote:

“If originality, a compelling tale and an adventure in the kitchen are what you creave, Like Water for Chocolate serves up the full helping” – Carla Matthews, San Francisco Chronicle

Verdict: Very interesting book! (Okay, that doesn’t say much, but I don’t really know how else to describe it… doesn’t sound interesting like that, but it is, believe me!)

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

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Markus Zusak is a prize-winning writer. He lives in Australia with his wife and daughter.

The book in one sentence: How words and books changed the life of the book thief, and how in turn she uses them to help the lives of people around her.

Who would you recommend it to: Someone who is looking for a meaningful read and enjoys books set during the World War.

OK bits: I like how books and words were so important to some of the characters, and how in some ways books and words save their lives.

Boring bits: I find the narration a bit peculiar and hard to comprehend sometimes. Quirky, nonetheless.

Random review quote:

“A weighty novel worthy of universal acclaim… The story of the Book Thief, who tried to change the world in her own small way, proves one formidable and inspiring distraction” – Daily Express

Verdict: I bought this book for RM12, and it was worth that and more too. A book along the lines of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, I don’t see it as a children’s book, as it is sometimes categorised under. A book I enjoyed (in a sad way) and recommend.

The 2½ Pillars of Wisdom: The Von Igelfeld Trilogy – Alexander McCall Smith

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The book in one sentence: Professor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld’s ordinary, academic life is often punctuated by unexpected, hilarious adventures and mishaps – I can’t help thinking of him as the sophisticated man’s Mr Bean!

Who would you recommend it to: McCall Smith’s fans, but they shouldn’t expect a Mma Ramotswe. If you’re looking for a comedic but not too silly book, this would do quite nicely (though it can be quite unrealistic, so best to suspend your disbelief).

OK bits: I like how McCall Smith made a boring professor character have unimaginable adventures and show how someone of his stature might react. Von Igelfeld is shaped to be a relatable character, full of flaws and misgivings, despite his intelligence and the maturity expected in someone of his profession.

Boring bits: The thing is that, many things that von Igelfeld goes through is boring, but the writer writes it in such an interesting way that it’s not as entirely boring as it might be in the hands of another writer.

Verdict: It’s a funny book! In a way, von Igelfeld is the male’s Becky Bloomwood (read The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs and you’ll get what I mean). The pompous, upright Professor von Igelfeld is unlike the wise and diplomatic Mma Ramostwe or the moral and rational Isabel Dalhousie, but he is every bit as endearing as those two characters, which incidentally I do like.

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