Friday, March 22, 2013

The cellist of Sarajevo | Steve Galloway

Superb! This is an excellent book, sad and moving and worth every minute I spent reading it.
I had heard of this book for ages but never got round to reading it. I'm pleased I did for a few reasons: it's very well written, Galloway captures the nature of the people living under siege in Sarajevo and it is amazing to think it happened in the 1990's. The city was under siege from 1992 to 1996.

On the 27th May 1992 mortar shells killed 22 people who were waiting to buy bread. For the next 22 days Vedran Smailović, a renown cellist, played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor at the site of the deaths to honor the 22 victims. Although the book uses this as one of the main events, the rest is a fictionalized account of life in the city.

We have three narrators and their lives are incredibly well portrayed, you feel like you are right there, under siege. Arrow is a woman who is a sniper. Kenan, a father who is simply trying to get fresh water for his family. Dragan, an older man who is trying to cross an intersection so he can get some bread.

Arrow speaks of why she is a sniper and how she can kill the 'men in the hills' with a clear conscience, although she has rules and parameters in place for her own sanity. Kenan's walk to the water spring takes all day and he has to cross the line of fire repeatedly to get it. He speaks of his fear and his tiredness and the constant struggle against those who are making a lot of money on the black market selling goods to the trapped population. And Dragan, waiting two hours to try and get across an intersection. He just wants to get bread but is incapacitated by the knowledge that snipers may be waiting for someone to cross that street. Or maybe not. The uncertainty and  gamble that each step brings is incredible  He is torn as he sees people killed, does it make it safer to cross or increase the odds he will be hit?

It must have been  traumatic and exhausting to live through the siege and the destruction of the city. I would like to do some more reading about the conflict and its aftermath.
This book was a good place to start.

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