Must-read: The Cellist of Sarajevo


[Feature image: CelloPics]

Title: The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway

The Skinny: Sarajevo became under siege during the Yugoslavian War. This book recounts the story of three different individuals: a young man on his way to collect water for his family; another man on his way to find food, but instead winds up running into an old friend; and a young woman, a sniper, whose job is to protect the famous Cellist of Sarajevo.

While the story is fictional, the cellist is not. A witness to a massacre of friends and neighbours in the streets of his city, the cellist vows to play his cello at the site of the shelling for 22 days – one day for each person murdered. You might’ve seen the famous photograph of the musician playing near the headstone of a victim.

Why you need to read it: I feel like it’s important to connect to the places we visit via literature. When I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, it quickly became my favourite Balkan country. In Sarajevo, my guide told me tales of growing up in the besieged city, and how everyday was a battle of life or death for him and his family. He told me about this book. And to think, in our lifetime, all this happened.

But another reason I love this book is because of how it’s written: in three different sections, with three very different characters, in a completely non-linear style. It’s the same reason I loved The Jade Peony. It can be a hard feat to pull off. By the time you get committed to one character, it’s all over and you’ve moved on to the next. In this case, it works. You’re writing fiction about a real event, and so multiple angles just makes sense.

What I learned from it: Historical non-fiction is the bomb. Especially when you’ve already visited the place, or are planning on visiting it, or want to visit it.

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