The Cellist of Sarajevo


Steven Galloway

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The Cellist of Sarajevo Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Steven Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Steven Galloway

Steven Galloway was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, then grew up in Kamloops. He realized at 20 years old that the books he loved to read were in fact written by living people and he decided to be an author. After attending the University College of the Cariboo and the University of British Columbia, Galloway became a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, as well as at Simon Fraser University. Galloway’s first novel, Finnie Walsh, explored the friendship of two Canadian boys through a love of Hockey and was nominated for a Canadian First Novel Award. In 2002, Galloway began researching the Bosnian War and eventually wrote The Cellist of Sarajevo. Published in 2008, The Cellist of Sarajevo quickly became an international bestseller. Galloway continued to write and teach, publishing The Confabulist in 2014, before he was dismissed from the University of British Columbia in 2015 for allegations of sexual assault. He now lives in Westminster with his wife and children.
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Historical Context of The Cellist of Sarajevo

The backdrop of Galloway’s novel is the Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in modern military history. In the wake of the fall of Yugoslavia, tensions arose between the Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks living in the new country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The siege of Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, began on April 5, 1992 as the city was brutally shelled from the surrounding hills by Bosnian Serb forces. After almost four years, during which little aid was able to reach through the Republic Srpska blockade of the city, the siege finally ended on February 26, 1996. Intervention from NATO allied countries, such as France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, eventually forced a new peace agreement between the Bosnian Serbs and the other ethnic groups of the region. From an estimated population of over 500,000 before the war, more than 13,000 people were killed in the siege and Sarajevo’s population was reduced to around 300,000 after the war. War crimes and atrocities had been committed on all sides, but the UN report of the war assigned 90 percent of the war-time abuses to Serbian forces. Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to recover from this conflict, and Sarajevo itself has been largely rebuilt, with amazing restoration of historic buildings. However, the culture and legacy of the city has been forever changed.

Other Books Related to The Cellist of Sarajevo

Like Władysław Szpilman’s memoir The Pianist, The Cellist of Sarajevo examines the place of art and culture in wartime through the actions of a musician. Galloway depicts everyday life in the besieged city, similar to works such as Zlata’s Diary: a collection of diary entries by a young girl, by Zlata Filipovic, who was living in Sarajevo during the war. Barbara Demick’s Besieged: Life Under Fire on a Sarajevo Street gives a similar perspective on Sarajevo under siege. Galloway’s fictional novel also draws from historical texts about the Balkan conflicts and the Bosnian war, including The Fall of Yugoslavia by Misha Glenny.
Key Facts about The Cellist of Sarajevo
  • Full Title: The Cellist of Sarajevo
  • When Written: 2002-2008
  • When Published: 2008
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Setting: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Climax: Arrow decides to defect from the Sarajevo militia, Dragan drags a man’s body out of the street to protect the dignity of the dead and preserve the image of Sarajevo, and Kenan decides to go back into a risky part of town to help his neighbor get water—all inspired by the cellist’s music.
  • Antagonist: The Bosnian Civil War, hatred, hopelessness
  • Point of View: 3rd person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Real Cellist of Sarajevo. Galloway’s cellist was inspired by the real Sarajevan cellist Vedran Smailović, who played Albinoni’s Adagio for 22 days to commemorate those who were killed when a mortar shell hit a crowded market square. Smailović was not contacted or consulted as Galloway wrote this book, a fact which initially angered Smailović as he felt that Galloway was taking advantage of his life story. Galloway insists that he only meant to honor Smailović and did not mean to steal anything. The two men met in 2012 to smooth over this conflict.

A Fictional Bosnia. Galloway initially considered setting his novel in a nameless, fictional city. Doing so would have freed him to explore the themes of civilians in war and the place of art and culture without the added pressure of researching the real city of Sarajevo when the wounds of the war were still so fresh for the survivors. However, Galloway rejected that idea as making the novel “too universal,” and kept the cellist in Sarajevo to give the book a concrete connection to the real world and the real experience of the Bosnian War specifically.