(My spirit is coiled. This is one of the gravest reviews I will write.)
The Cellist of Sarajevo leaves in it’s wake a quiet yet powerful remembrance of the men and women who lived their lives in fear and trembling each day during that 4 year siege, doing their best to survive in a war that seemed to be going on and on like a bottomless and hungry creature emerged from the depths of the most malevolent darkness.
It seemed that it’ll only end with the faded hopes of the people of Sarajevo and their will to fight to survive one more day. The lives they left behind, the friends they lost, the memories they buried and all of it for the sake of becoming strong enough to face the harsh truths of war with enough courage in their hearts to stop themselves from giving in to their wobbly knees.
Because they knew that once fallen, they will never be able to stand up again.
Sarajevo is a city drenched in blood, fear, and shards of reality and its inhabitants have a story to tell.
It’s a story about a loaf of bread, a bucket of water, a mission to protect and a musician who brought the world around him what they needed the most – a drop of hope.
I will present to you why their story must be read by every single human being who possesses the ability to read and one reason why you should steer clear of this book because …well…I’ll tell you later on.
K E N A N
When the city you have spent all your life in turns into a graveyard of broken things and dead meat, you start to question if the place you grew up was ever really there or was it just a figment of your imagination?
What do memories mean anyway? What do they stand for? What are memories worth?
Kenan knows. They can buy you a few kilograms of tomatoes and rice and a few apples maybe.
But memories don’t have a significant place in Kenan’s world now. It hurts too much to close his eyes to relive those joyous moments only to be shaken awake by distant firing and falling buildings. He shouldn’t do that, thinking about running his hands through her wife’s honey brown hair, hearing his children’s laughter as they play with their electric car. Those are the things of the past because the war had thinned his wife beyond recognition and about that car? Well, electricity is a guest that visits only once or twice a month and never stays for more than 3.2 minutes.
He has to get water for his family. He has to make that two-hour-long, perilous journey across the city and the river to get all the bottles refilled before the shelling begins again. THAT’S what matters now. THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS TO HIM.
A MAN AND HIS BUCKETS
The ONLY one that counts. To keep his family alive. To keep them from dying of thirst. This is his duty. This is what wants and has to do.
And he will. As long as he can. and even beyond.
Because this is a brave man. A man so brave that he admits not wanting to be a soldier. Not wanting to protect his city because nothing represents Sarajevo more to him than his two daughters, his little son and his lovely wife.
Kenan wishes he wasn’t selfish. But in a world where using each other as guinea pigs for the ”men in the hills” is commonplace, what else is there any scope for?
What else can he be?
No, he will be selfish. For himself. For his children. And he will loathe himself for this. But HE WILL CARRY ON because at home there is someone waiting for him.
This journey – one day journey – will leave him a changed man. The shock of witnessing death land and explode inches away from his six immaculately filed and secured water bottles will transform something in him at a deep and almost cathartic level.
He will come to terms with his priorities and will make peace with his life because he has to get up again. to fetch that water.
D R A G A N
With his wife and son safely away from the horrors he witnessed on a daily basis, Dragan is angry.
But most of all at himself. Why is it that he couldn’t leave when he had the chance?
He needs to eat. Starving to death is just as bad as dying in the crossfire. Maybe that’s what those snipers waiting in the hills are rooting for? It’s unclear. Maybe we’ll never know what they think. What they feel about all the people they murder?
He needs a loaf of bread. There has never been a more innocent necessity. And yet, war has turned it into luxury. The war that understands only the language of violence – this war that burned countless homes, buried numberless people, burnt numerous stories whose ashes still roam the streets of Sarajevo smelling of burnt paper and with those papers, the stories. This STUPID, STUPID war that’s turning humans into dust for the simple reason of making a statement.
Yes, Dragan is angry because nothing is as it was, as it should be. Where once used to be fond memories now stand only deserted buildings and in those buildings is a whole lot of nothing. Memories that are long lost now and can never come back again even if, by some miracle, it does go back to the way it was before.
Everything is tainted. With blood and rubble.
But he still needs to get that loaf of bread. It is FREE and he is hungry and there aren’t as many places as the bakery he used to work in left standing now. Is it worth risking his life for though? Maybe. Maybe not.
But Dragan doesn’t care. This siege has made him bitter. It has turned him into a pessimist. He doesn’t believe in things now. He just doesn’t see the point of it all.
Through Dragan we get a full and rare glimpse of fear and disappointment blended immaculately in the hearts of people who actually have to go through the horrors of war. Because it’s not just death that Dragan is afraid of. No. He is far more frightened by the possibility of having to spend his whole life as a captive in his own city. That’s the prospect that is completely unacceptable for him. And it should be. But it gives way to words and actions that would later instill grand amounts of guilt in him.
Behind all his anger and disappointment is FEAR and all it’s different flavors of it and he still doesn’t know how to cope with it. But he will learn, eventually. He must.
A R R O W
She is quick.
She is smart.
She is undeterred.
The men on the hills hate her and so she hates them. She wants each and every single one of them dead. No exceptions. There is nothing complicated about her.
War means that people will be killed and she wants to make sure they die on the right side of the hills surrounding the once-beautiful city of Sarajevo.
Nothing could be simpler.
War doesn’t only breed terror and loathing, it also breeds self-doubt in the minds of people. One minute they have everything – a loving family, friends, a life – and the next they are standing with ashes in their hands of everything that they once held dear, everything they were.
What now? What are they now?
For Arrow the simple girl who found joy in every moment and meaning in every act – no matter how little – no longer holds any place in her life as it is now. She knows she must be fast, brutal and unflinching if she is to survive the war. She must be relentless. She must be a weapon. A sniper as skilled as herself can inflict a lot of pain and do a lot of damage to the adversary and so that’s what she will do.
But her sense of morality and her significance in this war is questioned and challenged when she is given an assignment. She must protect a man. And this she must do for 22 days.
In the process, she must face her past, the girl she used to be. She has to choose and put an end to the dilemma between who she wants to be and who she is.
Arrow needs to remember herself once more. She needs to own her name.
These three lives.
And on them are dependant dozens more.
How will they find hope again? To keep on carrying on as long as there is breath in their lungs and strength in their legs?
They need to be reminded that the world can be a beautiful place again.
More than five and thirty people stood in the line that day. For a piece of bread to take home with them. Mothers, Wives. Husbands, brothers, granddaughters. Each of them had a single purpose – to make it through the night without an empty stomach.
And then it happened.
A shell landed directly beside them, sending them flying off in each corner, leaving only cries and blood.
The Cellist saw it all.
Saw it happen in front of his own eyes. Saw how several injured with missing limbs and ears were carried off. Witnessed the cruel death of 22 people. And in that tragedy, he found his purpose, his place in the war.
For the next 22 consecutive days, he would play his cello in the street on the site of the blood-bath to honor every single one of those innocent people who lost their lives for a simple desire. He will do that without taking into account the consequences of his actions and what will happen to him.
He won’t care for all that.