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By the Chapter, Day 3 | The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

April 15, 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.

Time stands still yet moves forward. Time is unique in this story. For Kenan and Dragan it passes in minutes and hours. For Arrow it passes in days. Kenan continues his journey to the brewery and back for fresh water. Meanwhile Dragan is still debating the merits of crossing the street, not only with himself but now with a family friend who has happened by. Arrow is protecting the cellist while giving us glimpses into the mind of a sniper.

Our characters battle demons that plague their decision making. What is happening is not of their choosing. They resent the circumstances that dictate the mental and physical paths they must travel. They rail against the men that have driven them to this point.

With the blink of an eye the day takes a dramatic turn from uneasy peace. Kenan and Dragan encounter death. Each comes face to face with their own mortality. What to do? Who’s to say that one life is worth more than another? But a choice must be made.  This time each man chooses himself. Then question becomes why? What causes a person to react the way they do? Some light has been shed but I believe the internal struggle for both men will continue to rage as I read on.

Arrow is facing difficulties of her own. She wonders and worries over the smallest detail while plotting location and setup. She’s a natural at her job but her adversary is every bit as good or better. Arrow lays in wait for the perfect moment, the perfect shot. And then the unthinkable happens. The sniper exhibits human emotion, a natural reaction to the cellist’s music, and possibly a change in the outcome.


I’ve finished this wonderful book already, sorry Elizabeth, and I have so much I want to say but I’m having trouble articulating what it is I want you to know. I had no idea what to expect starting out. This is one those stories that touches on a wide range of emotions. Writing this post has been a challenge for me. Normally I write, tweak, publish. No so with this post. I’ve spent hours rewriting, tweaking, starting completely over. What I feel about and for these characters isn’t coming across as I’d like.  But here it is. To me it feels unfinished hopefully it won’t to you. Enjoy!

This is both an easy and a challenging book to read. It’s short, 256 pages, and not complex on the surface. I could race right through it not vesting my time digging into the feelings of these characters. I could take it at face value and leave it there. But this book isn’t written that way. I believe author wants me to connect with these characters on deeper level. Therein lays the complex part. I’m immersing myself in the emotions and decisions associated with living day to day in a worn torn country. As one character pointed out “One of the things about the war is that I’ve been down a lot of streets I’d never been on before. It has changed my geography”. Section Two, Dragan chapter, Kindle section 945-51]. Emina actually meant this in terms of physical geography. War is forcing her take different routes for safety. Suddenly she finds herself walking streets and sections of town she’s never walked before yet they are only a block or two off her beaten path. But as I write this today reflecting on my reading I find myself applying her analogy to mental geography. Think how the mental landscape of our characters has been altered, essentially shattered. Routines are no longer routine. They, the men on the hill have changed the rules. We, the lead characters don’t want any part of this, it’s not of our making. Surviving becomes a game of mental gymnastics – what was, what is and what will be. They must alter their mental geography to fit the new landscape. We’ll see how well they do.


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 15, 2009 5:01 am

    Don’t apologize – if I’d had more free time over the weekend, I’d be done too. =)

    I think you did a great job articulating your thoughts – I know exactly what you mean about the change in mental geography.

    • April 16, 2009 4:14 pm

      These characters are facing so much uncertainty that I”m surprised they can even function at the level they do. They’re whole road map for living has been wiped out and they have to start over. I can’t imagine trying to figure how to live when stepping across the threshold of your door could be life ending.

  2. April 15, 2009 10:48 am

    Wow! That book sounds stunning.

    • April 16, 2009 4:11 pm

      A very, very good book. It’s going to hit my favorites list.


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