The Cellist of Sarajevo

A middle-aged father who attempts to protect his family during the siege, Kenan’s mission during the novel is to get water for his household and for his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Ristovski. Kenan does not see himself as a hero, as he has avoided becoming a soldier in the Sarajevan army and only wants to make sure that his family makes it through this crisis. Yet Galloway asserts that Kenan is heroic in his own way, doing the hard work of braving the dangerous city to make sure that others have the resources they need. Kenan works to maintain a brave face for his wife, Amila, and their children. He dreams of rebuilding Sarajevo after the war into a place where his children can thrive. Kenan decides that the only way to be worthy of rebuilding Sarajevo after the war is to keep struggling through these hard days.

Kenan Quotes in The Cellist of Sarajevo

The The Cellist of Sarajevo quotes below are all either spoken by Kenan or refer to Kenan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead Books edition of The Cellist of Sarajevo published in 2009.
One: Kenan Quotes

"You've never lived through a war. You have no idea what it will be like."
"It won't last long," he said. "The rest of Europe will do something to stop it from escalating."
She snorted. "That won't matter for me. I'm too old to do the things one must do in wartime to survive."
Kenan wasn't sure what she meant. He knew that she had been married just before the last war and that her husband was killed during the initial days of the German invasion. "It might not be that bad," he said, regretting it immediately, knowing it wasn't true.
"You have no idea," she repeated.
"Well," he said, "I will help you. Everyone in the building will help each other. You'll see."
Mrs. Ristovski picked up her coffee and took a sip. She didn't look at Kenan, refusing to acknowledge his smile. "We'll see," she said.

Related Characters: Kenan (speaker), Mrs. Ristovski (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
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Two: Kenan Quotes

Men who are much older, have larger families, and are less suited to combat have enlisted. But Kenan hasn't. He knows the real reason.
He's afraid of dying. He may very well die at any time, whether he's in the army or not, but he feels that as a civilian his chances are lower, and if he's killed it will be unjust, whereas for a soldier death is part of the job.

Related Characters: Kenan
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

As a schoolboy, Kenan had been made to visit the small museum, now destroyed, that commemorated the assassination. He has always been slightly ashamed that, for a generation, when the world thought of Sarajevo, it was as a place of murder. It isn't clear to him how the world will think of the city now that thousands have been murdered. He suspects that what the world wants most is not to think of it at a1l.

Related Characters: Kenan
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
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Two: Kenan (Part 2) Quotes

The men on the hills made the library one of their first targets, and they took to their task with great efficiency. Kenan didn't know if it was shells that started the fire, or if someone smuggled in a bomb as they did in the post office, but he knew that as it burned they fired incendiary shells at it. He went there when he heard it was burning, without knowing why. He watched, helpless and useless, as this symbol of what the city was and what many still wanted it to be, gave in to the desires of the men on the hills.

Related Characters: Kenan
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
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Two: Kenan (Part 3) Quotes

Kenan is able to identify three types of people here. There are those who ran away as soon as the shells fell, their instinct for self-preservation stronger than their sense of altruism or civic duty. Then there are those who didn't run, who are now covered in the blood of the wounded, and they work with a myopic urgency to help those who can be saved, and to remove those who can't to go to whatever awaits them next. Then there's the third type, the group Kenan falls into. They stand, mouths gaping, and watch as others run for help. He's surprised he didn't run, isn't part of the first group, and he wishes he were part of the second.

Related Characters: Kenan
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:
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Three: Kenan Quotes

The building behind the cellist repairs itself. The scars of bullets and shrapnel are covered by plaster and paint, and windows reassemble, clarify, and sparkle as the sun reflects off glass. The cobblestones of the road set themselves straight. Around him people stand up taller, their faces put on weight and color. Clothes gain lost thread, brighten, smooth out their wrinkles.
Kenan watches as his city heals itself around him. The cellist continues to play…

Related Characters: Kenan
Related Symbols: The Cellist, Albinoni’s Adagio
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

He thinks of Mrs. Ristovski. He doesn't know what made her the way she is, but something has killed her, he can see now that she is a ghost as well. She has been a ghost for a long time. And to be a ghost while you're still alive is the worst thing he can imagine.

Related Characters: Kenan, Mrs. Ristovski
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:
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Four: Kenan Quotes

He knows that if he wants to be one of the people who rebuild the city one of the people who have the right even to speak about how Sarajevo should repair itself then he has to go outside and face the men on the hills. His family needs water, and he will get it for them. The city is full of people doing the same as he is, and they all find a way to continue with life. They're not cowards, and they're not heroes.

Related Characters: Kenan
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Kenan Character Timeline in The Cellist of Sarajevo

The timeline below shows where the character Kenan appears in The Cellist of Sarajevo. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
One: Kenan
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Kenan wakes early, going to his kitchen to use his family’s final quarter-liter of water to... (full context)
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
...that the city’s infrastructure is so damaged that electricity and water no longer run consistently, Kenan must go every four days to get water. Usually, the best source for clean water... (full context)
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Kenan goes to wake his wife so that his family can take advantage of this rare... (full context)
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Amila gets up to tell Kenan goodbye. She tells him to be careful, though both Amila and Kenan know that there... (full context)
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Kenan walks down a flight of stairs, worrying about the day when he will be too... (full context)
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After the war started, Mrs. Ristovski barged into Kenan’s apartment, declaring that Kenan’s family had no idea of what people had to do to... (full context)
Two: Kenan
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
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Kenan walks down the street in the same direction he would if the building he used... (full context)
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Kenan walks up to the grocery store hoping to see news about the next relief convoy.... (full context)
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Kenan wonders why he can’t force himself to join the army, though he knows it’s only... (full context)
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Today, Ismet looks particularly worn and has a slight limp from a recent injury. Kenan hugs Ismet and they joke about buying meat at the grocery store. Ismet gives Kenan... (full context)
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Kenan keeps walking, passing by the Music Academy. Several people are inside playing pianos, making a... (full context)
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Kenan puts the black market out of his mind and continues his journey. He can’t help... (full context)
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Kenan passes the Hotel Europa, once the Stone Inn before it was destroyed by the Great... (full context)
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...called the Latin Bridge before 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed by Gavrilo Princip. Kenan has always been ashamed that this assassination is what Sarajevo is known for by the... (full context)
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Kenan meets a man running around the corner who warns him that snipers are targeting the... (full context)
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Staying under the cover of the buildings, Kenan notices an old man fishing for pigeons by dangling bread on a pole. Kenan jokes... (full context)
Two: Kenan (Part 2)
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Kenan looks up at the ruins of the National Library, thinking of how this building used... (full context)
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Kenan reaches the Seher Cehaja Bridge and hides behind one of the library’s arches while a... (full context)
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Kenan is glad to be moving, oddly unnerved by his short conversation with the woman by... (full context)
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Kenan sees a café that legend says was rebuilt across the river when the city diverted... (full context)
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Kenan remembers first meeting Mrs. Ristovski when she came over to the apartment the first day... (full context)
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Kenan sighs, wondering why he still deals with Mrs. Ristovski’s prickly personality. He gets up and... (full context)
Two: Kenan (Part 3)
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
...is still a good source of water. A hundred of people are in line when Kenan arrives, and he is happy that it isn’t more crowded. A system of tubes and... (full context)
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...his water containers. The dog drinks as if he will never see water again, which Kenan realizes could be true. The man finishes filling his containers, fills the dog’s thermos again,... (full context)
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
...presumably transporting water to the troops on the front lines, and the traffic noises allow Kenan to pretend it is a normal day if he closes his eyes. Then it is... (full context)
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As Kenan fills his water containers, the whistling of shells comes far too close. Kenan thinks of... (full context)
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Kenan sees a woman holding her leg where her foot has been blown off. Two men... (full context)
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...to help the wounded, recover the bodies of the dead, and get themselves to safety. Kenan simply watches, finding that he can neither run to selfishly save himself or to altruistically... (full context)
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Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Water from the brewery washes the blood off the street. Kenan walks back to his water containers, then is consumed by a desire to stop the... (full context)
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Kenan finishes filling up Mrs. Ristovski’s bottles as the last of the wounded are taken away.... (full context)
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Kenan makes it to the cover of the buildings on the street below the brewery. He... (full context)
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Kenan arrives at Cumurija bridge and sees another man crossing from the other direction. Kenan waits... (full context)
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On the bridge, Kenan carefully balances his heavy bottles hanging from a rope that he has draped around his... (full context)
Three: Kenan
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Kenan moves quickly through the streets, reaching the other side of the main road. He sees... (full context)
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Kenan sees the water truck from the brewery pull up to a man in a suit... (full context)
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Kenan waddles over to the man in the suit with his rope of water containers still... (full context)
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Kenan recognizes the cellist as a former member of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra, though the cellist... (full context)
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With the cellist’s music playing, Kenan can imagine himself returning home to a happy family, taking his children out to a... (full context)
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The cellist goes inside and a woman who had been listening turns to Kenan and explains that her daughter was one of the ones killed in the bakery shelling.... (full context)
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Kenan returns to the market and sees Ismet paying a huge sum for a small bag... (full context)
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Ismet comes to find Kenan but Kenan walks away before Ismet can see him. Later, Kenan will go visit Ismet... (full context)
Four: Kenan
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Four days after his momentous trip for water, Kenan again wakes early and plans another trip to the brewery. Today is the last day... (full context)
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As Kenan leaves the bathroom, the electricity comes on. Kenan happily checks his closet where a car... (full context)
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Kenan kisses his wife goodbye and goes out to the hallway. Again, Kenan does not want... (full context)