Monday, April 06, 2009

The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway

Sorry for the fact that I didn’t blog yesterday but I had a weekend of being quite under the weather sadly, I am feeling a bit better today though. The good thing about being sick though of course is the fact that I spent a lot of the weekend in bed reading and finally got round to reading the final Richard and Judy book of this years selection The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is set during the siege of Sarajevo which took place in the 1990’s although with the level of atrocities I couldn’t actually believe that it had taken place so recently but then I suppose similar things are still happening now. The whole tale behind The Cellist of Sarajevo is a fictional work based on the true story of Vedran Smajlovic who actually played Adagio in G Minor for 22 days to mark the death of each of the 22 people killed in the street queuing for bread. Steven Galloway opens the book with the cellist going out and playing for the first time. However the book doesn’t actually focus on him, more three particular people who have the cellist and his music enter their lives in some of the hardest times in their lives.

The three lives that we join during some of those 22 days are Dragan a man in his mid sixties, Arrow a female sniper and Kenan a man in his forties struggling without life’s necessities. Each one of these characters has the cellist in their lives. Dragan for example, whose family had left Sarajevo whilst he has stayed behind to look after his apartment which sadly got bombed and now lives in his sisters house, can hear the cellist as he plays roulette with his life simply crossing the road to get to the bakers. Kenan does the same as he travels across the whole city with the possibility of being shot in order to collect fresh water as the resources are running low and he collects it for his family and neighbour (who is a wonderfully difficult disagreeable character). Arrow’s story is the one that I found the most interesting, that of a female sniper who gets the job to protect the cellist from snipers and in doing so protecting the people of the city and their hope.

Through these three lives we are given snapshots of what happened in Sarajevo and how people lived, well barely existed through it all. Galloway writes these characters and their situations with a grim reality but with wonderful lyrical prose. I know you can’t call the subject a wonderful one but you know what I mean I hope. I found seeing the world through these peoples lives opened my eyes to what happened in Sarajevo and how people coped. How they explained it to their children, how they avoided catching up with people as all they would swap would be depressing tales of woe and how strangers, who might not chose to see each other if they could help it, come together in these times of trial.

I was incredibly impressed with this novel and as a final read of the Richard and Judy Challenge I thought it was one of the selections highlights (and I am really chuffed that I read them all) and without the challenge I might not have read it and I would have been missing out on a gem of a book. Though this has been one of the most emotional and horrific books in parts, I actually had to put the book down every so often to breath and compose myself before reading on, it is one of the best books that I have read in ages and would urge everyone to give it a go.

Now what should I read next. I have a pile of six contenders at the moment I just cant decide upon. 'Daphne' by Justine Picardie, 'The White Tiger' by Arvind Adiga, 'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood, 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' by Mohsin Hamid and two Salman Rushdie. 'The Enchantress of Florence arrived in the post from Dovegreyreader this morning and I have been meaning to read 'Midnights Children' for ages. Oh its a quandry... any advice?

6 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

Were you not a little bit disappointed by the lack of plot in The Cellist of Sarajevo? I thought the writing was excellent, but felt let down at the ending, as there was no plot progression, just a series of vivid insights into their lives.

I think The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the best book on your list by a long way (but I've not read any Rushdie or Picardie) It depends on whether you are planning to read all 6 books soon - if so, I'd get one of the boring long ones (Tiger/Assassin) out of the way first, then reward yourself with The Reluctant Fundamentalist!

saveophelia said...

I'm really glad you enjoyed The Cellist of Sarajevo. I hadn't heard about Vedran until we had already came to the United States but the existence of his story itself is incredibly inspiring.

As for what to read next, it makes sense to read a Rushdie since you have two of them :)

Diane said...

I liked this book too. Your blog is great!

Savidge Reads said...

Jackie - I get what you mean about the book and the plot but for me it didnt matter so much as I just loved the three voices their journeys andthe sort of snap shot looks at their life. I could have happily read much more but in a way I liked that he didnt do that.

Ophelia - It does indeed make sense and I should chose one of the Indian settings as I have so many indian based books to read, I might bite the bullet and go for Midnights Children.

Diane - Thank you very much, I shall be dropping by your blog regularly now too!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Personally, I loved The White Tiger, but I listened to it on audio, so perhaps there is a difference between that and the written page. Congrats on getting through the entire list!

Dot said...

Oh dear, I hope you are feeling better! I am glad you reviewed The Cellist of Sarajevo as I keep picking it up in book shops and then putting it down. Now that I have read your lovely review I will definitely be buying it!