Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.
Stephen Galloway's THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO is a splendid examination of what happens the human spirit in the midst of dehumanizing horror. Is it possible, he asks, to maintain any sort of humanity in the madness of war?
The novel is wonderfully constructed. The writing is subtle and invites the reader to question his or her ideas of justice and compassion and mercy. The details are so clear, so wonderfully presented that the reader never doubts the reality of the author's created world. Yes, of course it's all taken from fact, but only the author's considerable skill makes the words on the page crackle and snap with such life. In the hands of a lessor writer this might have been reduced to trite platitudes, but in Galloway's hands it's a marvel of complexity, leading the reader ever deeper into dangerous, but undeniably important territory. I found myself thinking of Erich Maria Remarque's masterpiece, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT while reading.
What do we hold dear? Why? Chris Hedges (who was the New York Times Bureau Chief in Sarajevo during the war), in his masterpiece WAR IS A FORCE THAT GIVES US MEANING, explored how one inoculates oneself against the insanity of war. Galloway is working with similar territory, from a fictional point of view. I might suggested readers interested in questions of justice, moral integrity and, indeed, the power of the human heart, might read these books together.
Mr. Galloway, if you're reading this -- I bow to you. This is a book I feel honored to have read and one which, frankly, I wish I'd written!
From the back cover:
A spare and haunting, wise and beautiful novel about the endurance of the human spirit and the subtle ways individuals reclaim their humanity in a city ravaged by war. In a city under siege, four people whose lives have been upended are ultimately reminded of what it is to be human. From his window, a musician sees twenty-two of his friends and neighbors waiting in a breadline. Then, in a flash, they are killed by a mortar attack. In an act of defiance, the man picks up his cello and decides to play at the site of the shelling for twenty-two days, honoring their memory. Elsewhere, a young man leaves home to collect drinking water for his family and, in the face of danger, must weigh the value of generosity against selfish survivalism. A third man, older, sets off in search of bread and distraction and instead runs into a long-ago friend who reminds him of the city he thought he had lost, and the man he once was. As both men are drawn into the orbit of cello music, a fourth character—a young woman, a sniper—holds the fate of the cellist in her hands. As she protects him with her life, her own army prepares to challenge the kind of person she has become. A novel of great intensity and power, and inspired by a true story, The Cellist of Sarajevo poignantly explores how war can change one’s definition of humanity, the effect of music on our emotional endurance, and how a romance with the rituals of daily life can itself be a form of resistance.