The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo One: Kenan Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kenan wakes early, going to his kitchen to use his family’s final quarter-liter of water to wash his face. Though Kenan is only 40, he already feels like an old man. His wife, Amila, has also aged before her time. Kenan does all he can to ensure that his children will not be forced to age the same way. The kids don’t fully understand why or how Sarajevo has changed.
In Kenan’s storyline, Galloway more fully examines the effects of war on civilians. Though he is not in as much danger as Arrow is, Kenan feels prematurely aged by the suffering of living in a city that can no longer function properly. His biggest concern is that his children will be robbed of their innocence by this conflict, since he doesn’t want them to grapple with trauma throughout their adult lives.
Themes
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Now 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 is a brewery on the other side of the city. Kenan flicks on the light switch out of habit, then quietly lights a candle in the bathroom and begins to shave. When he blows out the candle, he is surprised to notice that the electricity is on.
Life in Sarajevo has been reduced to nothing more than a search for the basic elements of survival. Kenan’s focus is water, which he used to take for granted. Now, instead of turning on a tap, he makes an hours-long journey through possible sniper fire. The city has become so damaged that even electricity – ubiquitous in modern cities like Sarajevo – is now a luxury.
Themes
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Kenan goes to wake his wife so that his family can take advantage of this rare moment of electricity. But before he can give his family that small happiness, the electricity pops back off. Kenan gathers the water jugs he will fill at the brewery, making sure there are no cracks. He considers how many containers to take, settling on six—that way, Kenan can take two extra bottles for his elderly neighbor Mrs. Ristovski.
Kenan desperately wants to provide for his family, hoping that he can give them small pleasures in an otherwise bleak daily life. Getting water is a huge endeavor, and Kenan feels that even the two bottles of water he gets for a neighbor could hurt his family’s chances of survival.
Themes
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Amila gets up to tell Kenan goodbye. She tells him to be careful, though both Amila and Kenan know that there is no such thing as “careful” anymore. Kenan’s life depends on luck, though he is comforted by his wife remembering a time when he could be careful. Kenan goes out the door, then stops in the hallway. He wishes he didn’t have to go get water, that he could take his children to a carnival or a movie and never have to worry about war again. Hearing his children wake up inside the apartment, Kenan forces himself to walk away from the door.
Sarajevo has changed so much that even the concept of being careful has no place in the lives of its citizens. Kenan has no control over his own life, as he could be killed at any moment, and he has no control over how he spends his day, since his entire life has been taken over by the tasks of survival.
Themes
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
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Kenan walks down a flight of stairs, worrying about the day when he will be too weak to carry all the containers. He doesn’t want his son to come with him, since he is more terrified about his children dying than about himself. Kenan makes it to Mrs. Ristovski’s door and knocks. Mrs. Ristovski has lived here for years, since the end of the Second World War. Mrs. Ristovski complains incessantly, but Kenan somehow respects the old woman’s ferocity.
Kenan feels that every choice has life and death stakes now. His children cannot even go outside for fear of the snipers. His respect for Mrs. Ristovski comes as a reminder that people can survive such conflicts, though Mrs. Ristovski’s prickly personality is a reminder that suffering marks people.
Themes
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
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 survive in wartime. Kenan promised to help Mrs. Ristovski survive, and now he must bring her water. Mrs. Ristovski opens the door, looking annoyed at the interruption. She harshly shoves two bottles into Kenan’s hands, though Kenan has been asking her for weeks to switch to bottles with handles. Mrs. Ristovski then closes the door, leaving Kenan to wonder why he doesn’t just give up on her. He rearranges his own bottles so that he can hold Mrs. Ristovski’s as well, then steps out into the street.
Kenan’s promise to help Mrs. Ristovski, an admirable pledge before the siege took effect, is now a much larger burden on his life than he expected. Living in siege conditions has stripped both Kenan and Mrs. Ristovski of any pleasantries they might once have exchanged. Kenan now feels that he was naïve to promise assistance to anyone, and he considers giving up on any connection with others for the sake of putting the survival of his family first.
Themes
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
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