Saturday, 16 June 2012

Book Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo

I have a lot of reading time these days. With an hour long train ride each way between work and home I get through books quicker than ever. This one is a gem.

Brief overview: The Cellist of Sarajevo is set over a period of about a month, in Sarajevo, during the Bosnian civil war. A bakery is bombed and twenty two people queueing for bread are killed. The cellist of the title happens to be watching from his window as this happens and decides to play Albinoni's 'Adagio' in memory of victims - in spot they were killed every day for twenty two days. Also in the city are three other characters, all trapped by the siege in their own ways and all facing their own challenges.

The story is told from the point of view of each of these three people. We see their struggles to not only survive the war but also to save a part of who they were before it.

My thoughts: Excellent. I felt the tension and indecision as the characters had to choose their moment to cross an alley where a sniper may or may not shoot at them. When they were encouraged and uplifted for a brief time by the cellist's performance I felt their relief. And when they wavered between survival and doing "the right thing" in a situation where right and wrong are so difficult to distinguish, I wondered what I would do.

One thing that struck me was the fragility of life in peace time. Some of the characters thought back on when the siege was imminent - they'd dismissed it. Surely it wouldn't come to that. Surely the world would intervene. And yet, here they were risking their lives to buy food at vastly inflated prices, walking through dangerous territory to collect water - living in a war zone.

I love a book that challenges me. The writing is good, but not so complex it gave me a headache to read. And the Bosnian conflict is not one you find often in literature so it was good to learn more about it.

Have you read it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Also: more book reviews.
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