A three hour read perfect for the plane, Steven Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo is a beautiful novel with a simple message - in times of adversity, or times of joy - love life and live life in the present. Simple as that seems, it's so easy to dream of the future or dwell on the past.
A three week story, set in the front lines of conflict in the Sarajevo siege of 5 April 1992 – 29 February 1996, this novel brings to light human nature, compassion, and the dark depths of identity and psychological trauma in times of war. Based loosely on the story of Vedran Smailovic, a musician who watches his best friend die in a massacre of 22 civilians lining up to buy bread, the novel uses artistic license to tell a compassionate story. The musician, the cellist, vows to play his music at 4pm in the centre of the conflict, for 22 days, to honour his friends.
The story centers on three characters - Arrow, an expert sniper hired to protect the cellist from being shot, Kenan, a pessimistic man who wants only to live in the past and protect his family, and Dragan, a 65 year old man who refuses to leave Sarajevo with his wife and son when he can, because he feels Sarajevo is his only home. While the hills and valleys are filled with Serbs fighting the ill-equipped Bosnian military, and civilians, Kenan, Dragan and Arrow share their personal perspectives. Kenan finds compassion in times of adversity as he helps an old neighbour he despises, Dragan finds life again as he finally allows himself to let his old friends into his life, remembering the past as a pleasant memory and not a place to live in the future. Arrow, a university student turned sniper, lives by her code name only, in an attempt to shield herself from who she has been forced to become in the war.
In this must-read novel, Steven Galloway, a creative writing professor at the University of British Columbia, presents a beautiful perspective on life. In just a few hours on the plane to Montreal, I decided that this is what July 2011 holds for me - living in the present.