On Books: Music Heals

The Book: The Cellist of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway

Continuing with my musical theme, I picked this book up off the shelf to be my next read.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is inspired by the true story of Vedran Smailović, a cellist who played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor during the siege of Sarajevo in various areas of the city. The book, however, is much fictionalized (which Smailović was [understandably​] displeased about).

Galloway’s novel features four different characters, each with different stories. It opens with an unnamed cellist who witnesses a shell attack that kills 22 people, and thus decides that he will play Albinoni’s Adagio at the same time every day for 22 days in honor of each victim. This is the only time we see from his perspective – the rest of the novel switches between the other characters; a female soldier who calls herself “Arrow”, a father, Kenan, who is living with his family, and Dragan, an older man who works in a bakery.

These three characters’ stories are twined together as the book goes on, each chapter swapping between them. Though they never meet, it is clear that each one of them is similar in that their lives have been destroyed by the war, and that they are no longer who they once were and can only dream of how life was in the past. It is only through hearing the cellist play that they are able to regain hope and the belief that peace will one day return to Sarajevo.

In terms of writing style, I thoroughly enjoyed Galloway’s. It flowed seamlessly between characters and time frames, and I felt as if I were in the novel myself. Each individual was dynamic and their stories were moving, and I felt I could connect with them and was rooting for them. I also enjoyed that the cellist’s playing truly was a medicine for the pain and suffering each citizen of Sarajevo was going through – by listening to him, they could imagine life as it should be – the city would rebuild itself, years would shed off friends and family, those lost would be found again. For me this was a true connection – there has been many a time when I myself have found solace in the notes or lyrics of a song. Music is powerful – it has indeed saved lives. Why should it not also help people cope with war?

I would recommend this book for people who are interested in the influence of music on a population, or for people who are interested in historical fiction. Or for anyone who just wants to read a beautifully written and sad, but, in the end, hopeful story.

Overall score: 5/5 stars

-MC

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