In this elegiac novel inspired by an actual event during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, Steven Galloway explores the brutality of war and the redemptive power of music. Crafted with unforgettable imagery and heartbreaking simplicity, his small book speaks forcefully to the triumph of the spirit in the face of overwhelming despair.
Canadian Galloway 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.
A bread line in besieged Sarajevo. A mortar lobbed by Serb soldiers on the hill. Death for 22 people. A cellist sees it all and determines to honor the dead-and perhaps assuage his own pain-by playing Albinoni's Adagio on the spot for 22 days. And so Galloway opens his first novel, inspired by true events, weaving together four lives to tell the awful story of Sarajevo's devastation. Aside from the cellist, there's Kenan, who risks his life every few days to carry plastic canisters to the brewery and retrieve water for his family. Dragan, who got his family out before the bombs started falling, works at the bakery for, literally, his daily bread. Both must cower on street corners and watch those who risk crossing get shot or killed. Arrow, who uses an alias, is a sniper desperate to defend her city and just as desperate not to compromise her humanity by hating the men who rain death down on the city. In the end, each takes a stand, small or large, to assure that the "Sarajevo that [they want] to live is alive again." Galloway writes simply and affectingly, occasionally resorting to cliché and just as often hitting a sweet, clear note that makes the siege of Sarajevo very real.
Inspired by Vedran Smailovic, the cellist who, in 1992, played in a bombed-out Sarajevo square for 22 days in memory of the 22 people who were killed by a mortar attack, this is a novel about four people trying to maintain a semblance of their humanity in the besieged city.... [Galloway] effectively creates a fifth character in the city itself, capturing the details among the rubble and destruction that give added weight to his memorable novel. —Elliot Mandel
Four people struggle to stay alive in war-torn Sarajevo, remembering the simple pleasures of their old routines as they settle into horrifying, desperate new ones. On a day during the brutal siege of Sarajevo—an occupation that ultimately lasted years and claimed tens of thousands of lives-a mortar attack kills 22 people waiting for bread as a once famous cellist watches from his window. In tribute, he decides to play his cello in the street for 22 days, which will likely get him killed, given the hordes of snipers waiting in the hills above the city. But Arrow, an angry young female sniper, is cryptically assigned to protect him. As she stalks his potential killers, she begins to confront her own rationale for murder. Meanwhile, two ordinary citizens try to survive another day in the hell that Sarajevo has become. Kenan, a young father, traverses the ravaged city in search of water for his family and, as a favor, for a neighbor. The only safe haven for clean drinking water is a brewery across town, and the trek is both difficult and dangerous. On the journey, Kenan passes the tragic remains of his old life, including the office building, now burnt down, where he used to work and the park, now unsafe, where he used to spend time with a friend. Meanwhile, Dragan, a middle-aged baker, runs into an old acquaintance as he goes searching for bread. The two literally dodge bullets as they make their way through the streets. As violence rages in a city whose vibrance now lives only in the memories of its dying residents, the cellist continues his beautiful act of defiance, playing on through the bullets. Indelible imagery and heartbreaking characters give authority to this chilling story and make human a crisis typically overlooked in literature.
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