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By the Chapter, Day 1 | The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

April 13, 2009

cellistofsarajevo1Welcome to By the Chapter. This week’s featured book is The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. Sharing hosting duties with me this week is Elizabeth from As usual, I need more bookshelves.


If you’re not familiar with The Cellist of Sarajevo here’s a little background on the book from Amazon:
Canadian Galloway (Ascension) delivers a tense and haunting novel following four people trying to survive war-torn Sarajevo. After a mortar attack kills 22 people waiting in line to buy bread, an unnamed cellist vows to play at the point of impact for 22 days. Meanwhile, Arrow, a young woman sniper, picks off soldiers; Kenan makes a dangerous trek to get water for his family; and Dragan, who sent his wife and son out of the city at the start of the war, works at a bakery and trades bread in exchange for shelter. Arrow’s assigned to protect the cellist, but when she’s eventually ordered to commit a different kind of killing, she must decide who she is and why she kills. Dragan believes he can protect himself through isolation, but that changes when he runs into a friend of his wife’s attempting to cross a street targeted by snipers. Kenan is repeatedly challenged by his fear and a cantankerous neighbor. All the while, the cellist continues to play. With wonderfully drawn characters and a stripped-down narrative, Galloway brings to life a distant conflict.


This story is based around true events, The Siege of Sarajevo.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is told from three points of view: Arrow, a defender of the city and a female army sniper; Kenan, a married father of three children; and Dragan, a gentleman in his 60s who has sent away his wife and child.

This is a quiet book, character perspective driven. There isn’t any real action to speak of. We follow the story as it affects these individuals and their struggle to survive in a war torn city. Their feelings and thoughts propel us through daily routines. Arrow is seeking out the enemy, destroying before she is destroyed. For Kenan and Dragan such seemingly simple tasks as getting drinking water or crossing a street take on new meaning.

Arrow, Kenan and Dragan have lost everything: family, friend, homes, jobs, freedom. They spend their days remembering, dwelling on, the time before the war. Sarajevo was a beautiful city filled with culture, commerce and the promise of a good life. Kenan might meet a friend for coffee or lunch. Dragan might stop on his way to work at the newspaper stand and trade a few words with the vendor. Life was peaceful. Waking up to a new day wasn’t filled with fear and dread. Their lives are haunted by ghosts of yesterday.

Peace is no more. Freedom is a distant thought. Now every move is tracked by sniper fire. Be it crossing a street or fulfilling your obligation to protect what is most dear to you. They never know when or who but they know its coming. It’s only a matter of whether today is their day to live, or die. Imagine standing on that familiar street corner, just standing, waiting seconds or minutes even, until that feeling comes over you saying ‘now, now it’s safe to cross, it’s not your time’. Out you step, still wondering if it’ll be last time you do.

And the cellist of Sarajevo has just been introduced. This man, every day for 22 days, will play his cello in the streets of Sarajevo defying the snipers. Even though it isn’t an assignment Arrow initially wants she will protect the cellist.


Normally a book this reserved wouldn’t suit me but I’ve become lost in their lives. The mundane task of living has taken on a new meaning. What should be normal isn’t. I find myself slowing down to read paragraph. Really trying absorb their thoughts and feelings. How they process what has taken place and what might be yet to come. I’m finding myself more involved with Kenan and Dragan than Arrow at this point. I find their stories more compelling right now. Their loses larger in magnitude.


If you’ve read, or are currently reading, The Cellist of Sarajevo please share your thoughts with us.

This week’s reading scheduling:
Monday: The Printed Page
Tuesday: Elizabeth from As usual, I need more bookshelves
Wednesday: The Printed Page
Thursday: Elizabeth from As usual, I need more bookshelves
Friday: The Printed Page/Elizabeth from As usual, I need more bookshelves



  1. April 13, 2009 1:10 am

    I read this book and enjoyed it very much. I would recommond it highly to anyone as an excellent story.

  2. April 13, 2009 4:13 am

    I read and review this book by in February, and loved it.
    My review

    I got sucked into it by his writing, it was beautifully done about the horrors of war, and especially in a way when it’s so close to me. Not back then but now when I am older and the world not so big anymore.

  3. April 13, 2009 6:14 am

    What a powerful book. The cellist sounds like a person with true strength of character – people like that amaze me.

  4. April 13, 2009 8:40 pm

    I am completely mesmerized by this novel so far. I can’t even leave a coherent comment, because I just want to read it some more.

  5. April 14, 2009 1:05 pm

    I am glad you are liking it so far, Marcia. Galloway wrote this in such an interesting syle. It’s an unforgettable book.


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