25 September 2008

The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway

A novel so sonorous, I dare call it an album. From the salient scream of the first mortar blast to the innocence of the a sniper saying her name aloud, Galloway has created a shear Wall of Sound. Phil Spector would be proud. It is indeed the tonal quality of his writing which draws the reader in, much like those who stood by and listened to the cellist play. The cellist plays for 22 days. He plays to mark the passing of 22 souls. Yet, aside from the opening paragraph, we do not hear the story through the cellist's eyes, but rather the story is told through the cellist bow. Plucking the stories from the rubble, Galloway has woven a masterpiece.

The siege of Sarajevo, as we learn in the afterword, is the longest city siege in modern warfare (biblical fold really knew how to throw a siege - something that seems to have gone out of style with the advent of ballistic missiles and stealth bombers). When Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, Serbian forces attacked peace protestors and set up barracades. It became essentially a war between the Yugoslave army and the Bosnian forces. When international pressure helped decale Bosnia - Herzogovinia an independent state, the siege escalated as Milosevic wanted to ethnically cleanse all Bosnians from Yugoslav lands. That is as simple as I can put it. For more on the Bosnian war, consult your local library :)

He doesn't hear the bullet hit, but he does hear the gunshot. He doesn't think he's hurt but he isn't certain. As he pulls the body of the hatless man the final few steps to safety he waits to feel some sort of pain, waits to feel the wetness of bleeding. It doesn't come. He sits down on the ground, breating hard, sweating.

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