The Cellist of Sarajevo
An exquisite novel of war and loss, music and solace.
The Cellist of Sarajevo
By Steven Galloway
256 pages. Riverhead.


The Cellist of Sarajevo (Riverhead) is a novel with four main characters, and the story moves among them, like a complex piece of music. And indeed, Steven Galloway, its author, has placed at the novel's thematic center Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor, a mournful piece drenched in the history of war. "The cellist" of the title plays the adagio for 22 days to honor the 22 Sarajevan dead at a site where a mortar hit near his home. The other three characters are a female sniper who calls herself Arrow, and two men, one young, one older, drawn by the music to become part of this remarkable memorial during what became an almost four-year siege, the longest of any city in modern warfare. The cellist is based on a real cellist who indeed played at the site of a bombing, and the sniper too is based on someone real. Yet the book feels vividly created rather than documentary; its structure is far more literary than journalistic and its concerns are focused on the mysteries of grief, healing, and survival. The book is also—odd that it matters but it often does—beautifully designed, in a small format, which adds to the sense that one has engaged with an elegant and even fragile work of art.

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