Author Steven Galloway will read from his novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo on Monday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Ganong Hall Lecture Theatre as part of UNB Saint John’s Lorenzo Reading Series.
Steven Galloway’s debut novel, Finnie Walsh, was shortlisted for the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Ascension (2003) was nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and his third, The Cellist of Sarajevo, described by the Guardian as “the work of an expert” in its “controlled and subtle” craftsmanship, was nominated for the Giller Prize and the Ethel Wilson.
About the novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo
Set during the seige of Sarajevo – “the longest city siege in the history of modern warfare” – The Cellist of Sarajevo introduces the reader to four survivors: Arrow, Dragan, Kenan, and the cellist live in the “mortarpocked,” rubble-strewn city, which is without water and sewage, trams and streetlights, and has only intermittent electricity. The prologue and chapter titles bear their names, and except for the cellist, these characters are on the move, cautiously and circuitously making their way through the city on errands – domestic or military – acutely aware of the snipers on the hills who could target them at any time.
Kenan is on his way to the brewery, the only place that still provides uncontaminated water. At the springs there, he will fill his family’s water jugs. For Kenan the question is – which bridge over the Miljacka River offers the safest crossing, enabling him to survive one more trip. Dragan, on a similarly perilous trek, is after bread. The men on the hills have their sights focused on the boxcar-and-concrete-piled intersection he must cross. Arrow, whose entire being is a “weapon,” and is able to “make a bullet do things others can’t,” hunts the men on the hills. Eventually, her unit commander, Nermin Filipovic, reassigns her to the defence of the cellist, who must be kept alive so the “world will see him.” The men on the hills are certain to send a sniper into the city to kill him. The cellist is central to this novel of war and music.
Every day, until the sadness lifts, the cellist makes music in what remains of his bombed-out apartment building. On the day that he sees 22 people massacred on the street below his window, he shifts his playing to the street. Dressed in the tuxedo he formerly wore in the National Orchestra, he sits in the crater created by the murderous mortar and plays Tomas Albiononi’s Adagio. For 22 days, one day for each of the persons who died in the bread line, he plays the Adagio at four in the afternoon. Soon, the other city travellers, Dragan and Kenan, converge at the afternoon concerts. Dragan goes there in homage to Emina, a friend from pre-war days, whom he meets at the intersection. She does not make it across. Kenan, weary with the weight of the water jugs, is drawn by the music. For Kenan, and for the other listeners, the cellist’s music briefly, miraculously returns them to the way things were before the war, before they were ghosts in a grey city.
In a city where people are “bruised and hungry,” prematurely aged, where going out (sniper fire) or staying in (mortars) involves equal risk, the cellist enables the Sarajevans to remember – and in remembering, to experience hope. In the aftermath of the music, Kenan realizes, “to be a ghost while you’re still alive is the worst thing” imaginable. In spare prose, Galloway celebrates ordinary people made resilient, redeemed from hatred and fear, by the extraordinary power of art.
“The images the author paints are vivid and unforgettable. Not a single word feels out of place.” Book Browse
Patty O’Brien, Communication Officer (506) 648-5707