Tuesday, April 14, 2009

By the Chapter, Day 2 - The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

Welcome to Day 2 of By the Chapter, hosted this week by Marcia at The Printed Page, and me! If you missed the start of our conversation, make sure you stop by and read Marcia's thoughts from yesterday.

Synopsis of The Cellist of Sarajevo from the publisher:

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.

My thoughts so far:

"It screams downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expands in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There is a moment before impact that is the last instant of things as they are. Then the visible world explodes."

Steven Galloway repeats this short, 3 sentence theme 3 times in the brief introduction to The Cellist of Sarajevo, and I am immediately hooked. In the introduction, we follow the cellist in the moments before the mortar shells strike the group of people, and we know what is about to happen. We realize, with horror, that nothing is ever going to be the same - not for him, not for anybody. I could feel myself wanting to warn him, but of course, I can't. I'm currently five pages into this novel, and already I feel an emotional investment.

(later - I've read some more...)

You know, this isn't normally a book that would catch my attention. Lots of the characters' internal thoughts, not much else. But I am completely mesmerized. I have to admit I'm not too far in - a busy Easter weekend, combined with a killer Monday workday, left me with little time to read. I haven't made it much past the introduction of each character. But, as I said before, I am already emotionally invested. I don't know what is going to happen to these people - it's war, after all, so noone is safe. But I feel concern for each of them - Arrow, the sniper, hiding from the men who would kill her. Dragan, who has sent his family away, and is trying to survive by himself. And Kenan, trying to save his family, whose trip to get water is fraught with danger.

Marcia said she is finding Kenan and Dragan the most compelling - I am completely caught up with Arrow. I found her explanation for why she calls herself Arrow heartbreaking. "But Arrow believes they took these names so they could separate themselves from what they had to do, so the person who fought and killed could someday be put away. To hate people because they hated her first, and then to hate them because of what they've done to her, has created a desire to separate the part of her that will fight back, that will enjoy fighting back, from the part that never wanted to fight in the first place. Using her real name would make her no different from the men she kills. It would be a death greater than the end of her life."

By the time Thursday rolls around, I will have had the chance to read more, and compose a more intelligent post. =) But for now, I am completely engrossed in The Cellist of Sarajevo, and can't wait to read more.

Make sure to stop by The Printed Page tomorrow for more of Marcia's thoughts about the novel.


Nicole said...

I find them all to be compelling, but I do admit that I was especially struck by Arrow's explanation of the way she has had to split herself into two people so that she can protect and keep separate the person who is not a warrior and didn't want the war from the person who is so good at what she does.

Literary Feline said...

Arrow's story was especially compelling to me as well, although I did find each of their stories interesting (as I'm sure you are too). Steven Galloway really pulled me into his story with that beginning as well.

Marcia said...

While I found Kenan and Dragan initially more compelling than Arrow as I got deeper into the story Arrow's story picks up and I found myself as involved with her as I was with the men. By the end all three characters had made huge impacts on me. Yes, I'm finished and yes, I loved this book. This is a great book and I highly recommend it.

Sorry Elizabeth I couldn't stop myself from turning the pages.

Zibilee said...

I've had this book on my radar for awhile now, but hadn't heard any first hand thoughts on it. I really want to read it now, thanks for posting these updates!

Maria Andrelita said...

Wow! After reading the synopsis here and posted comments, I will definitely have to find this book during my next trip to the library. Thank you for the post about it...I may have never known about this book. Happy reading to all!