Friday, April 17, 2009

The Cellist of Sarajevo

Author Photo Credit:Brenndan Laird

The Cellist of Sarajevo
by Steven Galloway
256 pages
Literary fiction
Riverhead Books
March 2009

Living is very different when your life is under constant threat, when each time you leave the house you run, knowing you are observed and are very much a walking target. In these situations life takes on a whole value. What is important enough to actually put your life in their hands for? Then you wonder when it became an act of bravery to cross the threshold of your door. This is the everyday life, the new normal for those in Sarajevo during the siege. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a novel based on a non-fictional siege, and a non-fictional well known local cellist, Vase Smailovic a who played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor for twenty-two days as a tribute to those who had been killed while standing in line waiting to buy bread. During this twenty-two day period not only is Sarajevo the cellist's audience, but the audience extends far beyond the well guarded borders of even Sarajevo itself, the world is his audience.

In a nation that is being torn apart, what will make those in the city stop and see that there still is anything worth living for? Society is not buildings, it is not libraries, or community halls-those are the shells that societies leave behind, the remnants and evidence that the people were there working together. Society is a community, the relationships held between people, and an understanding of an acceptable way to treat one another. When that society is under attack, a new normal emerges for its civilians, a new acceptable way to interact with others which is more an instinct than an interaction. When society as we know it falls apart and there are no longer any rules to how we should act, it is from within us that our actions arise. Those actions will prove a person to be a man or woman of courage and heart, or a human who only lives to protect itself.

The Cellist plays, and it is not he that is the focus in this novel, but those he impacts, his audience. There are three main characters which the narrator follows on their daily routine and of which the reader learns their thoughts and fears. Music, as all forms of art, inspires people to continue on, to hope for a future in a better world, and even to remember the past. Every day during the twenty-two day tribute, the Cellist was giving an outdoor concert- the notes rising amongst the broken buildings, the burnt down libraries, and mending the dreams and hearts of the broken people. And yet, that is just the starting point of this novel- it is what those three characters do with the hope that has been given them that caries the musical notes beyond just the listeners who were inspired.

For me personally The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway was one of those books, the books that you think about, dream about and live in while you are reading them, and those that you can't seem to let go of thinking about even when you have finished the last page. The writing of Steven Galloway is astonishing, it is human and beautiful. Even though he is writing about a very devastating time in history, his characters still find joy in the simple things of life. It may sound strange but Steven Galloway does an excellent job filtering in humor and lightness into this book. This allowed me to see that no matter how difficult of a place a person is in, there is still humor, because when the lightness and humor die that means all hope is lost. Both my husband and I read this and both loved it, if we both loved it that says a lot for the book, as we generally like very different books. I am granting The Cellist of Sarajevo my Stellar Five Chicken Book Award, and if you still haven't figured it out from my review, yes it is THAT good.

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This is the second book that I have read about the conflict in Sarajevo. I also read and reviewed Sarajevo Marlboro by Miljenko Jergovic . Check that out too.

Powell's Books Event:
Steven Galloway author of The Cellist of Sarajevo

I could not believe my luck when I saw that Steven Galloway was to be at Powell's Books! I was so blessed to go to that event last night. Brad (B) and I both got to go up and enjoy the full experience. We both knew that meeting the author could actually scar our already high opinion of the book somewhat, if the person who wrote the book is arrogant and rude, it does make it harder to love the book just as much. Don't you agree? However it was not an issue, as we came away delighted that he was an amazing person as well as writer, he was funny, clever, and very sweet. Like my grandma would have said " he had a good head on his shoulders!", and I am a believer in good heads. :) It was also really, super fun to meet up with Ali from Worducopia at the reading and chat a bit afterwords, but I thought she was in some of the pictures, but she seems to have escaped out of them! I'll get her next time.

My favourite quote from the author Steven Galloway was when telling us how he has a short attention span and it really freaks publishers out because they never know what to expect, he remarks, "You know, I wish I could write a good sexy werewolf novel. That is where the money is! I apologize though, if any of you are sexy werewolves that was not meant to offend". Yes, we were all laughing!

I got so shy when I met the author that all I could do was say, "My-favourite-character-was-Arrow. I-am-a-book-reviewer-and-really-loved-your-book!" Seriously, somebody HELP ME! I need to take boldness pills for next time.

Author Website: Steven Galloway


Sandra said...

Great review. I gave this book five stars too. I'm so glad someone else thought as much of it as I do. Fun experience to meet the author too I bet. Great post.

thatsthebook said...

Great review, I just finished this book yesterday. I need to digest a bit before I write my review. He's on of a few Canadian authors I'd like to meet now that I've read the book.

Shelley said...

That's so exciting! I have this one coming in the mail, and I almost never buy books. I'm glad to hear it's so good.

Alyce said...

That is awesome! I'm glad you guys had such a good time. Hopefully we'll be able to plan a trip up to Powell's together sometime soon - maybe this summer.

raidergirl3 said...

Really great book, and leaves you thinking about living through a siege like that, and how did we(North America) not know the extent to which Sarajevo was under.

delighted that he was an amazing person as well as writer, he was funny, clever, and very sweet.Well, he is Canadian.:)

Red lady-Bonnie said...

How awesome for both you and your husband to love a book AND you get to meet him at Powell's! You wrote a very thoughtful review of this book and I'm definitely adding it to my wishlist.

Ti said...

Wow! You lucked out! I never seem to have read the book when the author shows up to speak. Your timing was perfect.

I enjoyed your review. I love these kinds of books, the kind that you can get inside and live in. I love that you put it that way because that is exactly how I feel when I've read a great book.

claire said...

That's great to hear that the author was nice in person, and good to see that you and your husband both loved the book. I linked your review to mine. :D

Scribacchina said...

Thanks for the review. I've been waiting to read this book for some time, and just recently ordered it. I hoped to get it in time for the Read-a-thon, but had no such luck (unless my postman turns into Santa Claus and magically appears here tomorrow morning!) Glad to hear you enjoyed it so much!

bermudaonion said...

That is so exciting! You are so cute standing there with the author. I've been following Elizabeth's and Marcia's chats on this one and they loved it too. I've got to get hold of this book.

drey said...

Awesome review, bethany! & I'm jealous you actually got to meet him! Send him this way next time, will ya? =P

Anna said...

I've had my eye on this book, and your review clinched it for me. I've gotta read this book. I'm glad you had a great time at the reading/signing.

Diary of an Eccentric

Susan @ Reading Upside Down said...

I enjoyed reading your review. I made a mental note to get a copy of this book when I first heard about it and promptly forgot.

Thanks for the reminder. I have now written it down and will have to find myself a copy soon.

farmlanebooks said...

I loved reading this book, and thought the quality of the writing was excellent, but I felt a little let down by the ending.

Did you not wish that the book had a bit more of a plot? It felt just like fragmented glimpses into their lives, and I ended the book wishing to know more.

Madeleine said...

I am adding this book to my next book purchase. Thank-you for the great review.

I am going to try "Powell Book Store" for the first time.

Good luck with the read-a-thon, will cheer you

Alyce said...

Yesterday I read your account of the Powell's event, but today I wanted to come back and read your review. The Cellist of Sarajevo is now on my wishlist. Wonderful review!

The only book about Sarajevo that I've read is Zlata's Diary. It's a real diary of a young girl living through the siege of Sarajevo.

Wendy said...

This was one of my favorite reads from last year - LOVED it...Galloway did it just right - simple, hard-hitting, touching.

Great review! Glad you also loved it.

testsmrtlnks said...

What a beautiful review.

"the world is his audience" and now, because of the written word, the world really is his audience.

Looking forward to reading this one!

Ali said...

You sounded much more poised than you give yourself credit for. Thanks so much for the book, I can't wait to read it. (Except, I can and will wait until I finish reading the books I've promised to read in April...). It was so fun to meet you in person and wander aimlessly through Powell's with you.

S. Krishna said...

Wow, what an amazing review!