Playing to keep up spirits in war-torn Sarajevo

This is a novel of the Siege of Sarajevo which took place from April of 1992 to Feb., 1996. This is not the politics of the war, but the suffering and the heroism of the people.

The Cellist of Sarajevo

By Steven Galloway

Vintage Canada

This is a novel of the Siege of Sarajevo which took place from April of 1992 to Feb., 1996. This is not the politics of the war, but the suffering and the heroism of the people.

The cellist, (of the title) is the principal cellist in the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. Music is his life and when the mortars destroy the Opera Hall, the cellist is bereft; much of what he loved had been taken away.

“Arrow” ( not her real name) was 18 when the War started, she was an excellent shot, a sharpshooter. Now her skills are used against the enemy, a job that requires hate, and so she has left her old life and name behind.

Kenan is a husband and a father. To provide for his family he must, like many others, traverse the city to obtain water for their use. There are mortars, and there are snipers in the hills and there are bridges to be crossed. His life hangs in the balance.

Dragan is an older man who works at a Bakery. His apartment has been destroyed and he lives with relatives. The loaf of bread his job provides helps to keep him welcome there.

Each day these people go into the streets of Sarajevo, scrounging to keep their families alive. The electrical power is sporadic, (mostly off). There is no water or sewer and the markets have little food in them.

One day the Cellist looks out his window at 22 neighbours gathered at the market. They are there for their one loaf of bread. All around them, the city is destroyed. It is dangerous to be out, but they must eat.

A mortar comes out of the sky into the crowd. The cellist is a witness to their massacre. He has only one way to protest the barbarism. He makes a vow to play his cello in the street one hour for each victim. He will play for 21 days.

Each day at four o’clock, he dresses in his tuxedo, and he brings his stool and his cello, and he plays Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. It is his statement of faith against the enemy. As he plays, word of his protest travels about the city. Though it is dangerous, people gather to listen and the music puts new heart into them. They begin to leave flowers on the sidewalk. His music reminds them of another Sarajevo that they hope to see again one day.

Arrow is assigned the job of keeping the cellist safe. He has become a symbol to the people and must not be picked off by a sniper.

This is a novel and the author makes it clear that these people represent the real picture of Sarajevo at that time. The cellist really did exist and really did play. It is an amazing story and one that should remind us to value our water, our freedom and our peace.

Peggy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.

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