The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist Symbol Icon

The Cellist, once the principal cello of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra, plays his cello in the street to commemorate the victims of a mortar attack. Listening to music is a frivolous activity that seems to have no place in the survival mindset of the besieged Sarajevans. Furthermore, the cellist plays in the open street, which exposes himself and his audience to the threat of sniper fire. Yet this music is necessary for the Sarajevans to keep their humanity and continue to look toward a time after the war when music will once again be a normal part of their lives. Choosing to make themselves vulnerable in order to listen to the cellist’s music allows the Sarajevans a sense of control over their lives and community. Instead of letting the men on the hill control their actions, they choose to prioritize the beauty of the music instead. Dragan, Arrow, and Kenan all wonder privately why the cellist plays or what he hopes to accomplish with his music. Dragan eventually decides that the cellist plays because it is the only thing he can do to keep the ideals of civilization and culture alive in besieged Sarajevo. Thus, the cellist comes to represent all that Sarajevo seems to have lost during the war, and the possibility that beauty and joy could return to the city once the war ends.

The Cellist Quotes in The Cellist of Sarajevo

The The Cellist of Sarajevo quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Cellist. 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.
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:
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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
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
Two: Arrow (Part 3) Quotes

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:
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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
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The Cellist Symbol Timeline in The Cellist of Sarajevo

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Cellist appears in The Cellist of Sarajevo. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Cellist
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
The cellist thinks about the origins of a piece called Albinoni’s Adagio, reconstructed in 1945 when an... (full context)
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
The cellist thinks about his life just five years ago at his sister’s wedding. His family was... (full context)
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
...gradually destroying the city with mortars, grenades, and bullets. On this afternoon, the market outside the cellist’s building is hit by a mortar, killing many of the people who had been in... (full context)
Two: Arrow
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
...is transfixed by the instrument, looking rich and warm against the gray of the pavement. The cellist sits and begins to play, and Arrow is transported to memories of joy and cheer... (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
The cellist stops playing and Arrow wills herself not to cry as the musician disappears back into... (full context)
Two: Arrow (Part 2)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Arrow arrives at the street corner where the cellist played yesterday and begins to scout out the area. She thinks of all the tiny... (full context)
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Arrow cannot understand why the cellist is doing something so useless as playing. It is possible that the cellist no longer... (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...sniper. A less skilled sniper would camp out in an apartment building directly above where the cellist plays. Arrow comes up with a plan, selecting a building to the west where she... (full context)
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
...used to be a nice home. Arrow settles in to watch the general atmosphere of the cellist’s street corner, so that she will notice any sudden changes that mark the arrival of... (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...east. She calms herself, trying not to succumb to the temptation to second guess herself. The cellist begins to play, and Arrow sees a small hole in the plastic of the east... (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
The cellist stops playing and Arrow keeps her attention on the east window. The cellist goes back... (full context)
Two: Dragan (Part 2)
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...on Emina. He apologizes, asking Emina how she stays hopeful. Emina says that there is a man who plays cello for the people who died lining up for bread. (full context)
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Emina has gone every day to listen to the cellist , but she still doesn’t know what the cellist hopes to accomplish with his music.... (full context)
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
...the road. Emina decides to go too, so that she can make it to hear the cellist this afternoon. (full context)
Two: Arrow (Part 3)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Arrow gets little rest that night, going over what happened with the cellist . She can’t understand why the sniper wouldn’t shoot when he had a clear shot.... (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...is thinking about this funeral. She shakes it off, focusing on her mission to protect the cellist . She looks up at the window where she thinks the sniper was, then looks... (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
...to the sniper’s window. She is confident that she can kill the sniper easily today. The cellist goes into the street, sits, and begins to play. After five minutes of music, the... (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...into her window. She lays there, waiting to hear the second shot that will kill the cellist , but the music continues uninterrupted. The cellist plays until he is finished with the... (full context)
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
...that the sniper was waiting to see if he had really killed Arrow before shooting the cellist . Arrow is not so sure, but she stays silent as Nermin explains that they... (full context)
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...army forces. Nermin dismisses her, telling her to worry about nothing but her mission with the cellist . (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
The next morning, Arrow stays hidden in her apartment near the cellist so she will not ruin the illusion that she is dead. She hopes that the... (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...thinks about all the men on the hill she isn’t killing because she is protecting the cellist . She wonders if the men on the hill hate her, or simply hate anything... (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
At four o’clock, the cellist comes out and the sniper shows himself immediately in a window across the street. Arrow... (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
As the cellist’s piece ends, the sniper smiles and opens his eyes. Arrow shoots, hitting the sniper directly... (full context)
Three: Dragan
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
...doesn’t seem to be in much pain. Emina comments that she had wanted to see the cellist play on his last day. A car approaches and the crowd flags it down so... (full context)
Three: Arrow
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...in and Arrow announces that “he’s dead.” Nermin isn’t sure whether Arrow is talking about the cellist or the sniper. Arrow flatly clarifies that it is the sniper, trying not to let... (full context)
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...when this city lived in peace. Furthermore, Arrow realizes that she still wants to protect the cellist . She falls asleep. (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...she is now assigned to the colonel’s unit. Arrow insists that she must keep protecting the cellist , but Karaman explains that there are better uses for Arrow’s talents and that a... (full context)
Three: Kenan
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...knowing why, Kenan follows the music. He finds a small crowd of people gathered around a cellist playing in the street. (full context)
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Kenan recognizes the cellist as a former member of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra, though the cellist looks much worse... (full context)
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
With the cellist’s music playing, Kenan can imagine himself returning home to a happy family, taking his children... (full context)
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
The cellist goes inside and a woman who had been listening turns to Kenan and explains that... (full context)
Three: Arrow (Part 2)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...considers it too late for herself. But when she takes her final aim Arrow remembers the cellist’s music in her head and knows she will not shoot. (full context)
Three: Dragan (Part 2)
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Dragan thinks about Emina and the cellist . Just as the cellist plays because it is the only thing he can do... (full context)
Four: Kenan
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...again wakes early and plans another trip to the brewery. Today is the last day the cellist will be playing and Kenan looks forward to listening again. He worries about the coming... (full context)
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
...war is over and help his family survive until then. He looks forward to hearing the cellist play again as a reminder of that coming future. Kenan goes to Mrs. Ristovski’s door... (full context)
Four: Arrow
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...having already decided to let Karaman’s men find her now that she has finished protecting the cellist . (full context)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
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The last day the cellist played, there was a good-sized crowd in the street. Arrow began to cry as the... (full context)