Thursday 14 February 2013

The Cellist of Sarajevo

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None of this matters to Kenan anymore.  He stares at the cellist, and feels himself relax as the music seeps into him.  He watches as the cellist's hair smoothes itself out, his beard disappears.  A dirty tuxedo becomes clean, shoes polished bright as mirrors.  Kenan hasn't heard the cellists' tune before, but he knows it anyway, its notes familiar and full of pride, a young boy in a new coat holding his father's hand as he walked down a winter street.  The building behind the cellist repairs itself.  The scars of bullets and shrapnel are covered by plaster and paint, and windows reassemble, clarify and sparkle as the sun reflects off the glass.  The cobblestones of the road set themselves straight.  Around him people stand up taller, their faces put on weight and colour.  Clothes gain lost thread, brighten, smooth out their wrinkles.  Kenan watches as his city heals itself around him.  
(The Cellist of Sarajevo, page 209)

Hundreds of people line up for bread at a market in Sarajevo.  Within minutes, 22 are dead and 70 are wounded after snipers open fire on the hills surrounding the city.  A renowned cellist vows to play "Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor", resurrected from the ashes of World War II, for 22 days on a Sarajevo street, one for every victim of the bread line shooting.  

The siege of Sarajevo is the backdrop for Canadian author Steven Galloway's novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo.  He weaves the tale of three Sarajevans caught up in the tragedy:  Arrow, Kenan and Dragan.  Arrow, the daughter of a murdered policeman, is a sniper assigned to protect the cellist.  She sits day by day peeking through a tiny hole through which she pokes the tip of her rifle, while another sniper watches her.  Arrow dreams of peacetime, before all of the hatred began.

Kenan, husband and father of three, takes his life in his hands every time he crosses the war torn city to retrieve water from the brewery tap.  Lugging the heavy bottles around town, he debates whether or not to cross a particularly dangerous intersection.  He watches helplessly as a man loses his hat and his life while crossing that intersection.  No one will dare venture out into the street to retrieve the body -- until Kenan does.  

Dragan is also married with a child, both of whom managed to escape on one of the last buses out of the city.  He believes they are now living in Italy.  Dragan remains in Sarajevo, hoping the war will end soon.  Just as Kenan makes risky water trips across the city, Dragan makes risky bread trips to the local bakery.  He provides precious bread for his sister and brother-in-law, with whom he shares an apartment.

It's hard to believe that only 8 years before, Sarajevo welcomed the world for the Winter Olympics.  Athletes skied on the same hills from which the snipers now took shots.  It's hard to believe that burnt out tram cars dispersed across the city once transported Sarajevans to work, a lifeline for the city.  It's hard to believe that a city once so vibrant, was now full of corpses.  

The Cellist of Sarajevo is an excellent book which brings to life the streets of Sarajevo under siege.  

REUTERS/Oleg Popov(L), Dado Ruvic

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