Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

I loved this book in much the same way I loved Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. It takes a horrifying situation and focuses on the kindness of regular people caught up in the politics of those whose idealism has highjacked common sense and compassion. The last quote here from page 209 demonstrates beautifully how necessary it is to have art in our lives. There is a reason we are drawn to create it and experience it because it truly is food for the soul. Music, especially, has the ability to 'reassemble' smashed buildings, shattered windows and broken people. I had never thought of it in that way but yes, of course it does. Galloway's writing is fabulous.

Exquisite and profoundly moving, The Cellist of Sarajevo shows how life under siege creates impossible moral choices. It is a story about survival, about the temptation to hate and the refusal to do so, about the persistence of the human spirit in a time of fear and suffering. 

Sarajevo, a city under siege. As the mortars fall and snipers conduct their deadly business, a cellist sits at his window, playing Albinoni's adagio. When a bomb kills twenty-two people waiting in line to buy bread on the street below, he vows to carry his cello into the cratered street at four each afternoon for the next twenty-two days and play the same adagio in memory of the dead. Unknown to the cellist, a young woman watches his performances more avidly than anyone else. For she is the counter-sniper chosen to protect him from the enemy she knows lurks nearby with gun poised and ready to shoot. Can she keep the cellist alive? And what will it cost to do so? (inside flap)

The men on the hills make the library one their first targets, and they took to their task with great efficiency. pg112

The firefighters battled the flames for as long as they could, until they were ordered back by some commander who saw the futility of the situation. Kenan saw one fireman, probably in his late twenties, stand by himself and watch the inferno rage. He didn't move at all until, exhausted, he caved in on himself, fell to his knees. His fellow firemen rushed to him, thinking a sniper had hit him. As they helped him to his feet and led him away, Kenan saw that his cheeks were streaked with sweat or tears, and his lips were moving, silent, in a way that made Kenan think he was praying. For days afterwards, the ash of a million books floated down onto the city like snow. pg112

What the cellist wants isn't change, or to set things right again, but to stop things from getting worse. Because, as the optimist in Emina's mother's joke said, it can always get worse. But perhaps the only thing that will stop it from getting worse is people doing the thing they know how to do. pg126

Dragan still wanted the best for his son, and he still wanted the world to be different, but he never really thought about how he could accomplish this, what possible effect his actions could have. Now he often wonders whether there was anything he did or didn't do that played some small part in his city's disintegration. He wonders what would have happened if the men on the hills and the men in the city had in their hearts a tiny fraction of the benevolence felt for and known by a small child. pg128

When Kenan was told of what the cellist was doing, he didn't say anything, but thought it was a bit silly, a bit maudlin. What the man could possibly hope to accomplish by playing music in the street? It wouldn't bring anyone back from the dead, wouldn't feed anyone, wouldn't replace one brick. It was a foolish gesture, he thought, a pointless exercise in futility.
None of this matters to Kenan anymore. He stares at the cellist, and feels himself relax as the music seeps into him. He watches as the cellists hair smoothes itself out, his beard disappears. A dirty tuxedo becomes clean, shoes polished bright as mirrors. Kenan hasn't heard the cellist's tune before, but he knows it anyway, its notes familiar and full of pride, a young boy in a new coat holding his father's hand as he walks down a winter street. 
The building behind the the cellist repairs itself. The scars of bullets and shrapnel are covered by plaster and paint, and the windows reassemble, clarify and sparkle as the sun reflects off the glass. The cobblestones of the road set themselves straight. Around him people stand up taller, their faces put on weight and colour. Clothes gain lost thread, brighten, smooth out their wrinkles. Kenan watches as the city heals itself around him. pg209


Sam (Tiny Library) said...

So glad you loved this book, Trish. It's very underrated so I always get excited when I see a fellow blogger has read it.

Trish said...

Underrated is the right word. I was amazed how much this book touched me and that I had not seen it on many reading lists.

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

You sold me on this one when you mentioned The Book Thief. I added this one to my list right away.

Trish said...

Alexis - Great! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.