I am always wary of anything that has become a hit, all too often they are quite incredibly over-rated.I am even more wary of novels based around historical events, particularly recent ones, because they can give a false portrayal.For an historian this is incredibly frustrating.However, Galloway, writes convincingly and, as his afterword explains, did a great deal of research in able to publish this novel.Although I would not call it enjoyable as such, I would describe it as a must-read.
The novel is based around three characters whose lives intertwine, albeit loosely, because of the Cellist of Sarajevo whose character is based upon Vedran Smailovic.Vedran Smailovic became renowned for playing Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor at the site where many were killed when a mortar attack hit while they queued for bread.
The three key characters typify sections of Sarajevo’s society during the siege. There is Arrow, who has sacrificed her identity but attempts to maintain her moral stance despite acting as a sniper for the resistance. She is desperate to not become as evil as those ruining one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world. However, as events progress, her choices lead her down a path she would have rather avoided. Her struggle to remember her past being intensifies and final re-acceptance of her true self ends the novel dramatically.
Dragan, is an example of many men in Bosnia who helped their wives and children get out before the siege became too bad but believing it would not last long or intensify. However, he is left, lonely and scared and attempts to shy away from the familiar.
Yet, in contrast to Arrow and Dragan who try to forget the past in order to reconcile and learn to live with the current situation, Kenan and his wife cling to any familiarity possible, even if it is just a minute of electricity, a small amount of clean water or a shared joke. Dragan awaits the day he is killed or drafted into the army but tries to hide his fears from his family and maintain a strong fatherly figure.
Each, for a different reason, are drawn to the cellist and his daily, outdoor, risky concert, who and which become a symbol, for some of hope, for some of compassion, for some of the past.
The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996:
The siege was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, stretched from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996. The UN estimates that approximately ten thousand people were killed and fifty-six thousand wounded. On 22nd July 1993 an incredible 3777 shells hit the city.Last year, news of Bosnian Serb Army leader, Karadzic’s arrest and trial hit the headlines but unfortunately, General Mladic remains at large, despite attending football matched regularly and publishing a book of poetry.
Sarajevo is a beautiful city, surrounded by the hills in which Tito hid many of his weaponry.Slovenia and Croatia having already sought emancipation from the United Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Hercegovina attempted to gain independence.However, the fear of a an independent, strong and armed Bosnia led the Serbs to attain the weaponry and position themselves in ideal locations to shell key cities such as Sarajevo and Mostar.Although a great deal of reconstruction has taken place, in both Sarajevo and Mostar much destruction can still be seen, no more poignant than the ruined Sarajevo Library.
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway is available nationwide priced at £7.99