The Cellist of Sarajevo: “Everybody Dies, But Not Everybody Lives”
By Antoine Rushing, Towson University Student
Over the summer, I got the opportunity to read the book The Cellist of Sarajevo, and as I was reading, I could not help but think of a quote recently stated by a popular artist: “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.” The implication of this quote is that it is possible to be alive, but not be living. It could also be said that there is a difference between living and surviving. This fact is definitely evident in The Cellist of Sarajevo.
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Like the citizens of Sarajevo, living comes naturally when life is easy. Prior to the bombshell, people made various choices and decisions about how to spend their time, and they enjoyed themselves. They were living life. It is after the tragedy that creates the book that the citizens of Sarajevo must actively decide whether they will continue living, or choose to simply survive. Of the three main characters- Kenan, Dragan, and Arrow- only one chose to keep living. That of course, was Arrow. The interesting thing about that decision is that Arrow chose to keep living by refusing to allow her surroundings to dictate her behavior and thinking. Kenan and Dragan chose to survive by allowing themselves to believe that their fate was not in their hands, but in the hands of the men on the top of the hills. The moment that we as humans relinquish our right to make decisions, the moment when we feel that there is only one option, we have stopped living, and have begun surviving.
I found this book to be enlightening because it encouraged me to reflect on the type of person I really am. I live in the US so it is highly unlikely that I will ever be in a situation like that in Sarajevo. This being the case I probably will never have my sense of humanity tested to the degree of the three main characters in The Cellist of Sarajevo. Despite this fact, I used the small moments in the book almost as a mirror to the type of person I am now. Kenan recognized that integral part of living is preserving the sense of community. In order to do that, he had to view life in terms of how he could contribute to the lives of others, rather than in terms of his own needs. Like Kenan, would I go out of my way to help someone if there is nothing in it for me. If I saw someone drop their books, would I help them pick them up even though I have a class to get to? I don’t know. I hope so. I will find out the next time I see someone drop something. It is in those small moments that we can choose to view life by our contributions to it rather than our needs or wants.
The book opens with the explanation of how the work we now know as “Albinoni’s Adagio” came to be. It was reconstructed from a manuscript fragment found in the aftermath of a burned library. In the novel the cellist found that fact to be awe-inspiring and it gave him hope. Throughout the novel the music, and the cellist give the people of Sarajevo hope. The cellist exemplified each day that despite the circumstances, each person must still choose his/her own fate. The music illustrated that, like Sarajevo, something that seems impossible or hopeless could be recreated or rebuilt through time an effort. That would never, will never be achieved through survival.
Antoine Rushing is an honors college student at Towson University, studying Biology. Our thanks for Antoine for allowing the Maryland Humanities Council to publish his introductory speech, given to Baltimore City School students in October during the MHC’s One Maryland One Book Author Tour, featuring Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, the 2012 pick.