The Cellist of Sarajevo

This brilliant novel with universal resonance tells the story of three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst.

One day a shell lands in a bread line and kills twenty-two people as the cellist watches from a window in his flat. He vows to sit in the hollow where the mortar fell and play Albinoni’s Adagio once a day for each of the twenty-two victims. The Adagio had been re-created from a fragment after the only extant score was firebombed in the Dresden Music Library, but the fact that it had been rebuilt by a different composer into something new and worthwhile gives the cellist hope.

Meanwhile, Kenan steels himself for his weekly walk through the dangerous streets to collect water for his family on the other side of town, and Dragan, a man Kenan doesn’t know, tries to make his way towards the source of the free meal he knows is waiting. Both men are almost paralyzed with fear, uncertain when the next shot will land on the bridges or streets they must cross, unwilling to talk to their old friends of what life was once like before divisions were unleashed on their city. Then there is “Arrow,” the pseudonymous name of a gifted female sniper, who is asked to protect the cellist from a hidden shooter who is out to kill him as he plays his memorial to the victims.

In this beautiful and unforgettable novel, Steven Galloway has taken an extraordinary, imaginative leap to create a story that speaks powerfully to the dignity and generosity of the human spirit under extraordinary duress.

Reviews

“For historians, the siege of Sarajevo might seem the appropriate finale of the century that invented world wars, nuclear arms and planet destruction. That is precisely the reason why Sarajevo should belong to artists and not experts. In this vivid, passionate and generous novel Galloway takes us there, to the very streets of the besieged city. Snipers above us, cameras among us, shards of dreams beneath us, and each wrong step can lead to death or, worse, loss of dignity.”
—Dragan Todorovic, author of The Book of Revenge


“Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo is a wonderful story, a tribute to the human spirit in the face of insanity.”
—Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland and Paradise Alley

“A gripping story of Sarajevo under siege.”
J. M. Coetzee

“I cannot imagine a lovelier, more beautifully wrought book about the depravity of war as The Cellist of Sarajevo. Each chapter is a brief glimpse at yet another aspect of the mind, the heart, the soul – altogether Galloway gives us fine, deep notes of human music which will remain long after the final page.”
ZZ Packer

“Though the setting is the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, this gripping novel transcends time and place.  It is a universal story, and a testimony to the struggle to find meaning, grace, and humanity, even amid the most unimaginable horrors.” –Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

“Steven Galloway is a precocious writer of astonishing talent and creative imagination whose third novel lives up, in every respect, to the high bar set by his first two. The Cellist of Sarajevo captures with taut, painstaking clarity the events and atmosphere surrounding the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s… . Galloway once again shows himself to be as gifted as he is fearless. If it weren’t for the fact that he teaches creative writing, I’d say it was time to give up his day job.”
— Emily Donaldson, Quill & Quire (starred review)

“A darkly powerful novel about the insanity of war, the anonymous dying of a city under siege. Written with elegance and style, it is an unforgettable story about our limitless human spirit in a time of tragedy.” –Owen Sound Sun Times

“A story that speaks to the dignity and generosity of the human spirit under duress.” –The Guelph Mercury

“Gripping… . Every action, no matter how mundane, is charged with tension… . Galloway has shown that contemporary fiction can move beyond the minute examination of self and relationship. We are asked to gaze, instead, on a city, a society, in the process of being destroyed, and on the tiny human gestures that represent the only means to repair the damage.” –National Post

“Although Galloway’s characters weigh the value of their lives against the choices they must make, he 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.” –Booklist

“Undeniably suspenseful.” –The Sydney Morning Herald


“A grand and powerful novel about how people retain or reclaim their humanity when they are under extreme duress.” –Yann Martel’s pick for www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca

“Galloway delivers a tense and haunting novel… . With wonderfully drawn characters and a stripped-down narrative, Galloway brings to life a distant conflict.” - Publishers Weekly

“A novel about trying to cross the street. The description, though, does not do justice to Galloway’s spare, elegant prose or to the haunting images the author creates in this fine and affecting novel.” –Edmonton Journal

“At once an expansion and a deepening of the thematic concerns that weave themselves throughout his work and a glittering testament to the power of art to counteract hatred and division… . Galloway’s novel, bursting with life, is a vivid reminder of the power of art to dispel the darkness.” –The Vancouver Sun

“[V]ery nearly perfect, a galvanizing examination of the strength of the human heart, and the possibility of the survival of the human spirit in the most dire of circumstances. It will be impossible for readers not to imagine themselves in these characters’ shoes, wondering what they would do in similar circumstances. That personalization, which creates an understanding of a tragedy previously only glanced over in the pages of the morning paper, is, in itself, the highest of achievements.” –Ottawa Citizen

“Written in visceral, cinematic prose … Galloway’s compassionate story about the consequences of war is riveting from beginning to end. It will undoubtedly linger in the minds of many readers long after they finish it.” –Winnipeg Free Press

“Sensuous and precise, Galloway’s prose captures the unbidden movement between personal and public space, the contradiction of being trapped in a city one would not think of leaving, even if one could. This portrayal of what it’s like to live in the despair of the present, but with an unkillable knowledge that things can be otherwise, is what connects Galloway’s characters–and his novel–with the mission and the legacy of the cellist of its title.” –The Globe and Mail

“Perfect in that way only a true story can be… . [Galloway] is a surprisingly mature and self-confident storyteller… . His writing is meticulous and purposeful. War may be hell, but in this novel it’s an unsentimental, almost pedestrian hell and all the more compelling for it. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a sombre, stirring performance.” –The Gazette (Montreal)