The Cellist of Sarajevo

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.
The Cellist Quotes

The resulting composition, known as Albinoni's Adagio bears little resemblance to most of Albinoni's work and is considered fraudulent by most scholars. But even those who doubt its authenticity have difficulty denying the Adagio's beauty.
Nearly half a century later, it's this contradiction that appeals to the cellist. That something could be almost erased from existence in the landscape of a ruined city, and then rebuilt until it is new and worthwhile, gives him hope.

Related Symbols: The Cellist, Albinoni’s Adagio
Page Number: xv
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Cellist of Sarajevo quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
One: Arrow Quotes

To hate people because they hated her first, and then to hate them because of what they've done to her, has created a desire to separate the part of her that will fight back, that will enjoy fighting back, from the part that never wanted to fight in the first place. Using her real name would make her no different from the men she kills. It would be a death greater than the end of her life.

Related Characters: Arrow (Alisa)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
One: Dragan Quotes

Now, after all that has happened, Dragan knows that the Sarajevo he remembers, the city he grew up in and was proud of and happy with, likely never existed. If he looks around him, it's hard to see what once was, or maybe was. More and more it seems like there has never been anything here but the men on the hills with guns and bombs. Somehow that doesn't seem right either, yet these are the only two options.

Related Characters: Dragan
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

He's stopped talking to his friends, visits no one, avoids those who come to visit him. At work he says as little as possible. He can perhaps learn to bear the destruction of buildings, but the destruction of the living is too much for him. If people are going to be taken away from him, either through death or a transformation of their personality that makes them into strangers, then he's better off without them.

Related Characters: Dragan
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Two: Dragan Quotes

“The last time I saw him, he told me, 'What is coming is worse than anything you can imagine,’” Dragan says. “He killed himself the day the war began.”

Emina shakes her head. “This cannot be as bad as what happened in those camps.”
Dragan considers this, wonders how relative suffering is. “No, it's not. I don't think he thought it would be. But I think he believed that what he and others suffered there meant something, that people had learned from it. But they haven't.”

Related Characters: Dragan (speaker), Emina (speaker)
Page Number: 74-75
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

"I can't remember if we were like that, or just think we were. It seems impossible to remember what things were like." And he suspects this is what the men on the hills want most. They would, of course, like to kill them all, but if they can't, they would like to make them forget how they used to be, how civilized people act. He wonders how long it will take before they succeed.

Related Characters: Dragan (speaker), Emina
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Two: Arrow (Part 2) Quotes

The cellist confuses her. She doesn't know what he hopes to achieve with his playing. He can't believe he will stop the war. He can't believe he will save lives… She can't tell what he believes, and it bothers her that she can't say exactly what it is, or whether she wants to believe it too. She knows it involves motion. Whatever the cellist is doing, he isn't sitting in a street waiting for something to happen. He is, it seems to her, increasing the speed of things. Whatever happens will come sooner because of him.

Related Characters: Arrow (Alisa)
Related Symbols: The Cellist
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

She hopes that the girls, and the rest of the city hate the men on the hills for the same reason she does. Because they made her hate. They started a war, saying that the people of Sarajevo hated each other, and the people fought back, saying they didn't, that they were a city without hatred. But then the men on the hills started to kill and mutilate and destroy. And little by little they got what they wanted, a victory as clear as it would be if they could drive their tanks through the town. They made her, and people like her, hate them.

Related Characters: Arrow (Alisa)
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Two: Dragan (Part 2) Quotes

"Who is he playing for?" she asks again, and suddenly Dragan thinks he knows.
"Maybe he's playing for himself," he says. "Maybe it's all he knows how to do, and he's not doing it to make something happen." And he thinks this is true. What the cellist wants isn't a change, or to set things right again, but to stop things from getting worse. Because, as the optimist in Emina's mother's joke said, it can always get worse. But perhaps the only thing that will stop it from getting worse is people doing the things they know how to do.

Related Characters: Dragan (speaker), Emina (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Cellist
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

She is the person he once knew: Affected by the war, changed, but the woman he knew is still in there. She hasn't been covered in the gray that colors the streets. He wonders why he hasn't seen this before, wonders how much else he hasn't seen.

Related Characters: Dragan, Emina
Related Symbols: Gray
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Two: Arrow (Part 3) Quotes

Do the men on the hills hate her? Or do they hate the idea of her, because she's different from them, and that in this difference there might be some sort of inferiority or superiority that is hers or theirs, that in the end threatens the potential happiness of everyone? She begins to wonder whether they fight against an idea, and that fight manifests itself as hatred. If so, they are no different from her. Except for one key detail that simply can't be ignored or pushed aside. The idea she felt prepared to give her life for was not one that could include the hatred she feels for the men on the hills. The Sarajevo she fought for was one where you didn't have to hate a person because of what they were.

Related Characters: Arrow (Alisa)
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

She wonders whether he can hear the music. He's not much farther from the cellist than she is, so he must. Does it sound the same to him? What does he hear? What does he think about this man who sits in the street and plays?

Related Characters: Arrow (Alisa)
Related Symbols: The Cellist, Albinoni’s Adagio
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Arrow lowers her rifle and looks down at the street. The cellist has finished. He picks up his stool and cello and heads for his door. He pauses just before he enters, and she wonders if he will look in her direction. Even though he can't possibly see her, she wants him to turn toward her, to acknowledge her in some way. The cellist adjusts his grip on his instrument and disappears into the building.

Related Characters: Arrow (Alisa)
Related Symbols: The Cellist
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Three: Arrow Quotes

"The men on the hills have created many monsters," he says, "and not all of them are on the hills. There are those here who believe they are in the right simply because they oppose something that is evil. They use this war and the city for their own ends, and I won't be a part of it. If this is how the city will be once the war is over, then it's not worth saving."

Related Characters: Nermin Filipović (speaker), Arrow (Alisa)
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Three: Arrow (Part 2) Quotes

“He's one of them. They are his sons, he is their father, or grandfather, or uncle. They have killed our fathers and grandfathers and uncles."
"We're better than this."
"Of course we are. They're rabid animals. Killing them does the world a favor."
Arrow thinks about this, wonders how many of the men on the hills she has killed. Their deaths saved lives. She knows this is true. And she knows that she has nothing but contempt for the ones who murder. But they're not all like that. Their mothers and fathers and sisters are not all like that. "Some of them are good."

Related Characters: Arrow (Alisa) (speaker), Hasan (speaker)
Page Number: 201-202
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Three: Dragan (Part 2) Quotes

He looks across the street and sees the cameraman staring at him, his mouth open. His camera is in his hands, but not on his shoulder. It hasn't captured him, or the body of the hatless man.
Good, he thinks. I will not live in a city where dead bodies lie abandoned in the streets, and you will not tell the world I do.

Related Characters: Dragan
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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
Four: Arrow Quotes

The men on the hills didn't have to be murderers. The men in the city didn't have to lower themselves to fight their attackers. She didn't have to be filled with hatred. The music demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness.

Related Characters: Arrow (Alisa)
Related Symbols: Albinoni’s Adagio
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
No matches.