Inspired by the actions of a real cellist during the siege of Sarajevo, the story is a haunting and beautiful tribute to the endurance of humanity in the face of merciless horror. After witnessing the death of twenty-two of his friends and neighbors in a mortar attack, the cellist sits at the site of the attack, a small crater left at the point of contact, where he plays Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor each day for twenty-two days—once for each of the dead. The story is told through the eyes of three individuals—one man braving the streets under threat of snipers to collect water for his family; one man who makes his way through the city in search of a meal and instead runs into an old friend who reminds him of the city before the war; and a young woman recruited for her expert marksmanship—now a sniper herself—who is charged with protecting the cellist.
About the Siege of Sarajevo
The Siege of Sarajevo began twenty years ago, in April 1992, and lasted until February 1996—the longest siege of any capital city in the history of modern warfare. Sarajevo, now capital of the independent nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been a cultural, religious and commercial hub of the Balkans since the 15th century. The siege was part of the Yugoslav Wars—a series of complex ethnic conflicts fought between 1991 and 1995 following the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The siege broke out when the European Community (now the European Union or EU) recognized Bosnia’s independence. An estimated 18,000 Serb rebels, led by Radovan Karadzic, began bombarding Sarajevo with sniper shots and shellfire from the hills surrounding the city. Their goal was to create a new Serbian state, Republika Srpska. Prior to the conflict, the city was a cosmopolitan center of 525,980 inhabitants that was approximately 50% Muslim, 30% Serb, 10% Yugoslav, 7% Croat and 3.5% Jewish. According to a report for the United Nations Commission of Experts, nearly 10,000 persons were killed or went missing during the siege, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 persons were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. An average of 329 shell impacts hit the city each day, causing extensive damage to both civilian and cultural property; the Council of Europe's Committee on Culture and Education concluded that most of the buildings in the city had been damaged to a greater or lesser degree. UNICEF reported that of the estimated 65,000 to 80,000 children in the city, at least 40% had been directly shot at by snipers; 51% had seen someone killed; 39% had seen one or more family members killed; 19% had witnessed a massacre; 48% had their home occupied by someone else; 73% had their home attacked or shelled; and 89% had lived in underground shelters. The area has since stabilized, but the effects of the siege will no doubt be felt for generations.
About Vedran Smailovic: The Real Cellist of Sarajevo
The performances of the cellist in the novel were inspired by a series of real performances given by Vedran Smailovic. Yo Yo Ma described Smailovic as “…a real present-day hero whose spirit I greatly admire.” The Cellist of Sarajevo sparked some controversy after Smailovic demanded financial compensation for his presence in the novel. Galloway responded by pointing out that fictional accounts of public events aren’t at all uncommon, and that his cellist, while inspired by Smailovic, was certainly fictional.
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