Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review - The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

This wonderful little work of historical fiction sat, neglected, on my bookshelf far too long.  I'm so glad I finally got round to reading it.

I fondly remember when Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics.  It was fun to get a peek into this wonderful, old and cultured city.  I imagined I'd like to visit there.  Since then, of course, much of the grand old place has been destroyed by war.  During the Siege of Sarajevo a bomb fell into a street and killed 22 people who were waiting in line for bread.  For the next 22 days, Vase Miskina climbed onto the rubble with his Cello and played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor, once for each of the fallen citizens who died in the bread line.  This is the historical fact.  The rest, though fiction, reminds us of the strength of the human spirit as three primary characters, not Vase Miskina, go about their lives amid the chaos of war.

This is not a political book.  There are no references to race, religion, or particular prejudice; though those things surely played a part.  There is no justification or rationalization for the position of either side of the conflict, no attempts to persuade the reader to choose sides; though we clearly become sympathetic with the Sarajevan Citizens whose lives we follow.  This is a book about resilience, confusion, persistence, endurance, despair, hunger, corruption and the down right ridiculousness of war.  It is about the power of music and the effect of courage.  It is about the randomness of victimhood and the comfort of routine amid chaos.  It is about the learning of life's lessons in the harshest of laboratories and the quiet goodness of humankind.

Some other book may explore the minds and hearts of the aggressors; "the men in the hills;" not this one.
Perhaps they are no different than the defenders trapped in the city.  Who knows.  Some other book may explore the corrupt and opportunistic advantage-takers among the citizens of Sarajevo itself; not this one.
This one quietly places you and me in the middle of the chaos and helps us see how very good and resolute and courageous we might be as we range far and wide in search of water and bread and companionship and peace.  This book examines how we might be when our surroundings are reduced to rubble and survival becomes each day's luxury.

This morning I walked along a roadside in Rawlins, Wyoming.  The borrow pit was dry with brittle weeds and littered with trash.  Amid the withered grass and weeds stood one single bright Brown Eyed Susan blossom.  It's verdant beauty stood in stark contrast to it's surroundings.  Again, I thought of the singular precious human beings that stood as quiet reminders amid the rubble of Sarajevo.  A man, a woman, a girl, a cellist, who even in the harshest of environs, bloomed.


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