In 1984, when I was in grade 6, my class followed the Sarajevo Winter Olympic games. I remember watching the events and preparing a scrapbook of clippings complete with a laminated cover. My creative cover sported the olympic rings which represent the colours of the national flags of athletes that that strive to be faster, higher, stronger while they represented their countries. It is hard to believe that 6 years later a civil war erupted lasting until 1996 and leaving 10,000 people dead and destroying infrastructure and the site of a beautiful winter games.
Canadian author Steven Galloway captures the devastation of the city, the fear of the residents trying to keep alive and the desperation to keep their families safe through the perspective of Kenan, Dragon and Arrow. Kenan was a father living in the city with his family and risking his life on a weekly trek to get fresh water for his family. Dragon was in his sixties and had sent his family to Italy remaining in their home and working at the bakery. Arrow, had been a university shooter who was using her shooting skills as a sniper and trying to keep the “bad” side on the run. She was alone having lost her father in the early days of the war.
All three individuals were touched by the cellist of Sarajevo as he played Albinoni’s Adagio 22 times in 22 days to honour the 22 individuals killed by shelling as they waited in line to buy bread. As his beautiful music filled the air others dropped flowers at the site of mourning and unbeknownst to the cellist, Arrow lay in a bombed out building vigilant to snipers from the other side with a mission to keep the sniper safe. Dragon and Kenan were touched by the music as they ventured out in their city pondering their own reactions to the war and the adversity they faced avoiding snipers as they travelled on foot.
I listened to the first half during my commute and it was well narrated but finished by reading the rest of the book as I was anxious to learn the fates of these three individuals. The book, while fiction, is based around the true story of renowned cellist, Vedran Smailovic who had honoured 22 people that had been killed waiting to buy bread. It has been written that the musician was not aware of the novel and his inclusion created controversy leading to a meeting between the author and musician.
The author lives in British Columbia and adding to the squabble over the Cellist of Sarajevo, he is now a past faculty member of the University of BC where he taught creative writing prior to allegations of misconduct leading to his termination. He has been nominated for many awards for his writing including being on the long list for the Giller Prize. Despite the controversy surrounding Galloway, the story is compelling and part of the CBC’s 100 Novels that Make You Proud to Be Canadian which I would recommend.