The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway
War novels have always seemed their best when written by a combatant who has been there, lived it. Galloway’s novel, however, shows that a good writer’s empathic instincts are sufficient, even though he/she hasn’t been there. The story of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian wars, the longest one in modern warfare history, has in this author’s hands been compressed to a fraction of that time.
In doing so, he allows the reader to experience the siege from three different points of view: Kenan, a family man intent on securing water for his family from a far away brewery, Dragan, a baker who simply observes the street scenes, and Arrow, a female sniper. The cellist whom the story surrounds is given only one chapter, his mission to play an adagio for twenty-two days in memory of twenty-two people killed in a mortar attack at the site of his playing. The cellist and Arrow are based roughly on real persons, the other two the author’s inventions.
In allowing his story to play out, Galloway gives the reader a true sense of war, its reducing life to a mere survival, its day-to-day routines that approach ritual. Still, he does more, and with irony. He depicts his characters’ reduction to self-preservation while showing how strangers become friends-of-the-moment. He depicts hours or moments of danger that seem to stretch to eternity for his characters. And while his characters are disparate, unique, he allows suspense to build in different ways for each as the book reaches its climax.
Galloway is a skilled, eminently talented writer. We’ll hear more of him.
My rating 19 0f 20 stars