book review: the cellist of sarajevo

Steven Galloway wrote The Cellist of Sarajevo without ever having been there. That was what I knew about this book before picking it up in the bargain bin. It’s about the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s and follows four characters through a vaguely specified length of time. There’s a sniper, a man getting water for the day and an old man trying to go to the bakery. Plus the cellist. The idea is that this cellist (who did actually exist but the book makes no attempt to be accurate in its depiction of the real one) played cello on the street for 20 some days after a bunch of people were killed by artillery as they lined up for bread. The sniper is charged with secretly protecting the cellist. The other characters have heard of the cellist.

The book was okay. It was good to see the civilian side of war after finishing The Forever War. But something about it left me cold. Maybe it was the constant inside the headedness of it. The characters all introspect a lot, but in a very ponderous literary way. I felt that the two men were so close to interchangeable it barely mattered. And bad things happened and they were understandably cowards and it was sad. Not a bad book, but no great wowiness about either the subject matter or the way he used language.

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