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The Cellist of Sarajevo

Before I go into my review of the book, a brief history lesson. We never learned about Bosnia in history class, because its too recent to be deemed history but its too far away to be current. So it is just skipped. During the Bosnian War, Sarajevo (the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina) was besieged by Serbian forces for 44 months beginning on May 2nd 1992. The Bosnian government defence forces inside the besieged city were poorly equipped and unable to break the siege. During the siege, 11,541 people lost their lives and 56,000 people were wounded (UN report on the Battle & Siege of Sarajevo). The siege was finally lifted due to the Dayton Agreement and the civilian casualties. During one event, a motar attack while people were lining up for bread, 22 people died. A musician, Vedran Smailović, decided to play his cello at the site of the attack for 22 days to honor the victims. And so he becomes the center of the story, and with him, three strangers (fictional): a sniper, a baker, and a father. I'm torn about liking this book. On one hand, it was a really interesting story about Sarajevo during the siege, and the lives of three characters as they try to cope with life during wartime. And the novel does show, remarkably well, their resilience. But, Galloway (the book's author) fictionalized the main plot point in the story: that of the cellist. Smailović publicly expressed outrage over the book's publication. He believes Galloway stole his name and identity to write his novel. One reviewer asks,"Does an author of fiction owe a duty to the reader to present history accurately, or does the fact that he claims this is fiction absolve him from that moral responsibility?" (source) I think that this would have been a fantastic novel if Galloway had received Smailović's permission to write his story and if it had erred on the side of historical accuracy, not creative license. However, it did prompt me to learn more about the Bosnian War, and for that, I encourage you to read it. And on a side note, in April of this year, Smailović returned to Sarajevo (after he fled in 1993) to play his cello on the 20th anniversary of the start of the siege of Sarajevo (read more here). Rating: ★★★★

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