The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo One: Dragan Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Dragan remembers the old Sarajevo, wondering how much of that happy, peaceful city is a figment of his imagination. Yet the current gray Sarajevo of bombs and guns doesn’t seem right either. He runs through the old neighborhoods of Sarajevo in his mind, remembering when he could walk for miles along the river, stopping in cafes when he got tired. Now, the middle of Sarajevo, a district called Grbavica, is controlled by the men on the hills and walking along the river is tantamount to suicide. As more and more of Sarajevo falls, Dragan wonders how long he will be able to remember that other city of light and hope.
Gray overwhelms Galloway’s descriptions of the city, showing the bleak hopelessness of the current siege conditions. Dragan, an older man, even questions his memories. He cannot reconcile the Sarajevo he once knew with the terrible place it has become. In another view of civilian life in this changed place, even walking along the river is a dangerous act. For Dragan, it is almost impossible to maintain hope.
Themes
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
On this day, Dragan is walking to the bakery where he works. He has worked there for almost 40 years, and he knows that he is lucky this job keeps him safe from the draft. He is lucky to have the food, as well, when so many of the city’s residents are unemployed and the prices of all resources are rising. Dragan now lives with his sister and her family, though he doesn’t get along with his sister’s husband. Dragan’s old apartment has been destroyed and he sent his wife and his 18-year-old son to Italy to wait out the war.
Dragan’s mission for the day is food, another basic survival element that has become much more difficult in the ruined city. Dragan’s living situation at first seems like his family is coming together in a time of crisis, but the strife of the siege conditions is actually pulling the family apart. The war conditions have separated Dragan’s family physically, leaving Dragan incredibly isolated.
Themes
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
The bakery is about three kilometers from Dragan’s sister’s apartment, which now takes Dragan an hour and a half to walk. Dragan walks slowly, except when he runs across the intersections. The main road of Sarajevo is now called Sniper Alley, though Dragan thinks that name is appropriate for any street in the city. This street just receives special attention because it takes foreigners from the airport to the Holiday Inn.
Dragan comments on how foreigners come to Sarajevo pretending to care about the state of the city, but end up caring only about their own survival. They focus on the main avenue, while the residents of Sarajevo know that the city is in far more trouble than the foreigners can see.
Themes
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
Dragan continues on, skirting the main road to avoid getting too close to enemy territory. At another intersection, Dragan rests behind a few boxcars now lining the street next to the railroad. The whole street looks gray, while about 20 people wait behind the boxcars for the right moment to run across the intersection. A few people step out every couple of minutes and run frantically across the street as if it is raining and they do not want to get wet.
All the people walking through the streets keep to themselves, despite their shared struggle and close proximity. The war has isolated everyone. Dragan compares the awful circumstances of having to run for their lives in the streets of their city to the mundane experience of running through the rain. He has become desensitized to the violence of the war.
Themes
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Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
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Dragan waits until he feels right to cross, never knowing what moment feels correct. He has seen three people killed by snipers so far, always surprised at how fast a life can be ended and the street can return to “normal.” Dragan is afraid of dying, but he is more afraid of the pain between getting shot and dying.
In the Sarajevo of the siege, “normal” is a relative term. Dragan is so worn down by living in constant fear that even seeing a person die cannot affect him for long. He finds that he can only care about his own well-being and survival.
Themes
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
A man starts to run from the other side of the intersection. Dragan realizes it is an old acquaintance, Amil, with whom Dragan hasn’t spoken since the war began. Dragan looks away so that Amil will not recognize him, then feels guilty for avoiding this link to his past. He knows that speaking to Amil would just remind him of all that he has lost from his old life. Dragan no longer visits any of his friends, or speaks to any of his coworkers. He has decided it is best not to be attached to anyone when people can die at any moment.
Dragan’s isolation seems deliberate, since he chooses not to speak with someone he once knew. This silence and disconnection increases the suffering of the war. Rather than sharing the burdens of the siege, Dragan chooses to insulate himself from further suffering by refusing to care about anything or anyone. This viewpoint robs him of whatever small happiness he could have.
Themes
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Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
A couple ahead of Dragan decides to cross. When they are about a third of the way through the intersection, a bullet skids off the asphalt in front of them. The couple hesitates, then starts running for the other side. The sniper fires again but misses, and the couple makes it to safety. Everyone on both sides of the street sighs in relief, both because the couple survived and because they now know that this intersection is being targeted. Oddly, it is easier to cope with a known danger than with the constant uncertainty. Dragan knows that more people will brave the intersection in a few minutes.
One of the biggest risks in the Sarajevo is simply crossing the street. Any semblance of normal life disappears as normal people are shot for doing nothing other than walking in the city where they live. Yet the siege has worn Dragan down so much that he feels no outrage about the circumstances, but is just relieved to know for certain that he is in danger in this moment.
Themes
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon