(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.
And this simple gesture will awaken in the hearts of all everything that they thought they could never feel or even remember again. He will remind them that they can take away their homes, their loved ones, their will, but they can never take away the goodness that still resides in the city of Sarajevo and which will rise against every adversity.
And when on the last day, at the end of his concert, he will get up, with shaking shoulders and teary eyes, you will know the true meaning of loss in your hearts. You will cry with him. And a part of you will be lost, destroyed the same way his spirit has been tampered with.
I balled like a baby by the end of this book. And you will too.
There is no way around that.
And in the course of the next few days, you will be randomly reminded of Kenan with his water, Dragan with his friend lying on the street with blood all around her, of Arrow and the sad loss of her own identity.
But by then, you will not be sad for the cellist because you will know that despite the horrors he had witnessed, he managed to light a candle of hope and will in the hearts of them all.
And they will go on.
If you want to read The Cellist of Sarajevo, read it for Kenan, Dragan, Arrow. They will teach you the true meaning of fear, disappointment, and betrayal and you will grow with them as they will learn to live with it.
But don’t read it for the Cellist. Don’t do that because in only a few pages he will make you fall in love with him and you will always carry that image in your heart – him crying, him playing his cello with his eyes closed and a smile on his face, the sound of his heart shattering as he witnessed the fall of his city.
It all started with a need to fill the hole that the last story had left it my heart. I wanted desperately to find something just as engrossing to fill my mind, to distract me once more.
The need was strong and so was the pull that led me to shift aside all of the things on my shelf that crowded this long-forgotten book, hiding away from sight, as if lost in its own story – quite happily too, it seemed. I picked it out, not quite knowing why I had felt the urgency to seek this one out in particular and embossed in light blue halo were words written in white – WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT, almost as if written by a little child, too excited to pay attention. With that thought, I opened it.
And I never closed it, not willingly anyway.
The promise of a journey deep into innocent, magical hearts and their brave lives. That’s all this book has to offer. As if it isn’t enough?
Such is the nature of children that a mere flicker of magic, of the great unknown, is enough to draw them to it like a moth to a flame.
They don’t care about the consequences, they just want to make sense of the world around them, they just want to belong. And when none of that comes from the usual corners, they start to seek the same elsewhere. That’s what Elly did in the beginning. The world’s God, it seemed, loved everyone but her. So she decided to find another one. A better one. And she found it in Mr. Golan, their Jewish neighbor. With this new acquaintance started her journey of dreams and disappointments, too early for a child her age. Not to mention that soon Mr. Golan would do something that although Elly won’t be able to understand it then, it would change something in her. Something that she will confide, unwillingly, only with her brother. Something that would come out years later. And it would be okay. But that’s just the beginning of a long, long story.
Elly’s inquisitiveness and her relationship with the new girl Jenny Penny are so, so innocent that my heart went out. For both of them.
A strong relationship between a brother and a sister that became their rock against life’s many blows that were yet to come, witnessing a friend’s dysfunctional family that struck feelings that a young heart should never have been made to feel, forever escaping the truths of their identity and finally made to look them in the eye, beautiful friends found in the most unexpected places – When God was a Rabbit isn’t just a story where a child’s innocent love and faith makes her pet talk and do things that can only ever happen in dreams, it’s about LOVE and all the different forms that it comes in our lives.
It’s about those sweet and magical years and experiences that have the power to transform our whole lives. And even in the later years when everything just seems so devoid of hope, the flickering memories of those delicious moments lived long ago can be redemptive, therapeutic, to say the least.
”I am here but I am not yours”
When God Was a Rabbit reminds us of the colossal significance of relationships, and their effects on us, on our whole lives – no matter what age they are formed in.
I could tell you all about how Joe dealt with the loss of his lover, how Alfie made peace with his lack of faith and how he regained it. I could tell you about the most unusual relationship between a brother, his sister. Yeah, I could tell you all of that and even more but all I really want you to understand about this novel is that the more you advance through this beautiful story of friendship and relationships and love and betrayal, the more you come to realize that this one of those stories that you have to live to really understand it.
Yes, reading it was like living it. Living through Joe’s ordeals, laughing with Elly and Jenny Penny, getting awestruck by Arthur’s ability to defy even death.
Some stories have so much going on in them owing to their exciting and racy plot that you hardly have enough time to REALLY examine the characters. But When God was a Rabbit is a purely character-driven story. They will rise, they will fall, they will make you laugh, they will make you cry and by the end, you will leave with a fragment of them quietly tucked inside your hearts.
I have lived through a plethora of different emotions while reading this warm and, if I am being honest, at times shocking novel (in terms of the events that later transpire in the lives of them all) and all I can say is that –
When God Was a Rabbit is not just a novel. It’s an experience.
And what about you? Have you read When God Was a Rabbit? Do you agree with me? How was your experience of the novel? Who was your favorite character?
When I picked up this book, it was already too late. Too late to turn back. Even though it would take me a few chapters to really start liking it, it would become a necessity for the next few hours that I read and read and read…and read this story. This story of kind hearts and brave minds. Of seriously misunderstood teens and the chaos within them. Of how it would shape their lives in a matter of a few seasons – whether for good or for bad.
There is nothing but extremes in Beartown. People go all out or they don’t go at all. They love with all their hearts or they just don’t care at all.
A town of winners. And everyone else.
A town where they only understood one religion – Hockey. An obsession.
But is that really a bad thing? To be able to lose yourself into something even if just for a few minutes that you forget everything else? Yes. And No.
A girl is raped. She didn’t mean to. It just happened. It wasn’t her fault. But nobody really cared. Or if they did, they didn’t much care to acknowledge it. A girl was raped and all the dominoes came crashing down all around this icy town. A girl was raped and it defined the lives of many, many people…for many, many days to come. A girl was raped and it gave birth to violence, resentment, hatred, depression, competition, and most of all, it gave birth to a reckoning.
When tragedy strikes, we are surprised how it could ever even happen. When hatred simmers in young hearts, we try to locate the source. But more often than not, we forget that it was all in us. Always. The act just paved the way. It just acted as a catalyst for the things to come rushing out that have always been within us, to begin with.
Frederick Backman’s Us Against You deals with human fragility and their strength simultaneously. How a father will make peace with the fact that he couldn’t protect his daughter? How a best friend will collect himself when the person he loved the most turned out to be someone completely different? How certain people will try to take advantage of the chaos. Will they succeed? Will it be a good thing or a bad one if they did?
Beartown is all of these people and every one of them is Beartown. And they live for hockey. They live for becoming something other than who they are. For staying the same. For getting out. For staying put. They will fight until the very end. Until they can fight no more. But then something absolutely terrible will happen. It won’t be enough.
The odds will be stacked against them till the very end.
“Kira Anderson is sitting on the steps outside the little house. waiting for a man who never comes”
It’s also about relationships. With yourself. And others. How delicately you handle them? How much are you willing to sacrifice for them?
Whom do you put first?
Are you selfish? When are you not?
On a macroscopic level, Us Against You is an account of the all-important, all-consuming human pride. All the different flavors of it.
Political agendas. Smart men.
Manipulation at their fingertips.
Dreams. Sacrifices made to achieve those dreams. Proving your worth in a town that understands nothing but successive wins. Peter Anderson and his dilemmas. Late-night driving.
A chance to forget about the shame that chance has seen fit to put on him. A chance to prove his worth.
And again. A never-ending process. Because there will always be people who will underestimate you.
The town gleams with it, inside out. Sure there is violence but there is also compassion which can easily be found in two mothers, their love for their children, their devotion to hockey. Its the little things that will make you fall in love with the residents of Beartown – shaving cream filled shoes, an overly sarcastic friend, sisters doing anything they can to keep their brother in line, friends singing and shooting and irritating the hell out of each other, long runs and even longer practices to make sure the one who can do it, does it and doesn’t get off the track. These things will melt you, strike confidence in your heart about these people, get you pumped up for whatever their future will bring. Yes. It will do all those things.
But this story will also do something that every good story does and should – give you hope, give you strength.
”Mistake…just a mistake.”
The one person I always rooted for throughout the book, from the beginning till the end was a boy. An eighteen-year-old boy. This boy is reckless until he isn’t. This boy is harmful until he isn’t. This boy is a beast. Yes. But a beast hiding a fatherless childhood, a brute hiding the fear of non-acceptance. A brother, an uncle, a lover, a friend..he is all those things. If only people could look behind that strong facade. If only the man with the blue collared t-shirt didn’t think of him as just a mistake.
”Just a mistake”
One other thing about the writing that struck me as most beautiful is the amazing use of repetition by Backman throughout the novel. He uses it to tug at our curiosity in just the right amounts and at just the right places. And it may not seem like much right now but when you’ll read it, you’ll understand just how much it adds to the beauty of the story.
In the end, to understand the larger-than-life hearts of the residents of Beartown, you need to read it. You need to let their struggles consume you. They need you. They need you to understand their story. They need to tell it in their own words, horror and all. Won’t you listen?
“We’ll stand tall if you stand tall”
What did you think of the book?
Have I convinced you to read it yet? What part intrigued you the most about this review?
What are you reading right now? Because I am in desperate need of suggestions!
Silver streaks of light enter the window to the left of my bed. I am lying with my back to it but I can still feel the cold rays breathing down my neck. I giggle into the phone before going silent for several minutes.
“What do you fear the most?” I finally say, after a long and calculated thought process.
I hear him breathe deeply. My heart is pounding loudly inside my chest. It has been sixteen months today that I have been with this wonderful man but It’s still like every conversation is a magnificent door to a figment of his mind, his imagination and it’s a constant source of wonder to me.
He lets go of himself and I listen to every syllable coming out of his mouth and into my ears with utmost sincerity and awe. I am completely mesmerized by him. Every time he speaks, I feel like I am diving closer and closer into his heart and I feel a great joy filling my body.
Its been hours and I still just can’t get enough. I ask him about the littlest of fears or doubts he might have. Anything at all.
E V E R Y T H I N G
What excited him the most throughout the day? What the worst part was? Why he feels insecure? What inspires worried imaginations?
E V E R Y L I T T L E T H I N G.
And I can feel the weight from his heart lifting and his body relaxing with each thought he entrusts to me. I feel satisfied. Satisfied that I was able to make him feel appreciated and adored, something I most love to do.
Honestly, I am waiting for him to just speak one more sentence. No, more a question really.
“And you, baby? What are your fears? Tell me. I wanna know”
And I wait.
And I wait some more.
But he doesn’t say it. He starts another topic. I gladly join in, swallowing every feeling that was just bursting to be put into words.I smile and dive in into his mind once more losing myself in it. And frankly, I feel relieved too, thinking to myself, “Maybe this is isn’t the right time to open my heart anyway.”
Once again I make myself believe that the right time will come when he will sincerely want to listen to my fears, my ridiculous dreams – grand and small, my wishes, my lofty desires, my imaginations, my thoughts that have grown so loud that sometimes I go deaf to the whole world and start drowning in my own mind.But I know that it’s probably never going to happen.
Losing yourself into someone and liking it takes a huge amount of courage and a world full of love in your heart. Not everyone can afford it and those who can usually never find anyone to return that favor, not to their heart’s desire anyway and they are just going to have to learn to deal with that. Yes, that’s the reality.
How do I deal with it?
Wait for him to fall asleep contentedly. Listening to his breaths, those sweet deep breaths and when I am sure, absolutely sure, that he is sound asleep that’s when my mind comes alive with all of its raw wild imagination.
From the window, I see a faint figure in the sky..flying towards me. I keep looking at it. It keeps growing bigger and bigger until its standing right in front of me. A dragon. My dragon. A LOT OF SMOKE and *poooooffff* it turns into a more attentive version of the very person who is peacefully asleep miles away on his bed. Lies down to my side and listens to my thoughts as I drift away into dreams, talking to an imaginary being.
Sometimes, it’s best to empty your heart into the overflowing night and be done with it. Saves a lot of heartache and disappointment. I learned the hard way that although some people will love you a lot, sometimes, you will find to your disbelief that it’s JUST NOT ENOUGH. But that doesn’t mean that the person isn’t right for you. It’s just a testament to your TOO DEEP mind and your OVERFLOWING heart, something that is not as common in this world as you might like to imagine. What do you do then?
This is a post that I have been wanting to put up for FAAAAAAAAAAAR TOOOOOOOO long but never got around to actually doing it due to….well…my absolutely UNNECESSARY break!
But now, I want to take this opportunity to share with you, my gorgeous readers, my conversation with Tatiana Aleksina and Tony Single, the heart and mind of my favourite blog ON THE WHOLE INTERNET, UNBOLT.ME
YOU ARE GOING TO LOOOOVE THEM! Their answers were absolutely hilarious and so well thought that I felt like crying when I got them! They were very enthusiastic about it and I SWEAR TO GOD, I feel so glad that I had the opportunity to interact with them.
Both of them are terrific writers, kind and helpful and SUCH FUN TO TALK TO!
They are all around you. They see you. Scrutinize you. Judge you. NOTHING ESCAPES THEIR NOTICE. YOU MIGHT THINK you can fool them but let me tell you, honey, YOU ARE SO FUCKING WRONG! They are READERS. And BOOKS are just ONE OF THE THINGS THAT THEY READ. They are good at guessing thoughts, assuming things about you that are 99% of the times ARE QUITE TRUE!! They are READERS AND GUESS WHAT?
READING is the utmost pleasure – that’s true enough.Anyone up for debate on THIS topic, here is my reply to you –
But sometimes it also serves as a reminder of the acute lack ( of what, exactly? ) in our lives. When I see all those characters so intimately involved in each other’s thoughts and feelings – the inner workings of their minds – I can’t help but feel a sharp sting. It reminds me of all the things that I don’t have in my life yet – all those things that I haven’t experienced. And what’s more – it makes me wonder IF I’ll EVER have it all? And these realizations pave way to skepticism. So, in a way reading is dangerous. It is AS TREACHEROUS AS IT IS PLEASURABLE.
I was tired from the day’s nothingness. Everything seemed static. I had accomplished nothing that day. I just spent all those hours thinking about how NORMAL my life had become – devoid of any REAL excitement. NOTHING. And that was when I spotted the book, just lying on my side table.On top of it was a half-finished cup of coffee and a piece of cake. SEE, I WAS THAT TIRED!! I did not even finish my CAKE!!! But I mustered strength enough to pick up the book, dust off the crumbs and finally LOOK AT IT. It’s blue cover – the deep of the sky. A girl sitting with her back to my face. I wondered what she was thinking. I wondered what she might be looking at. AND THEN I READ THE TITLE. LIARS AND SAINTS.