The Cellist of Sarajevo


Steven Galloway

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Themes and Colors
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Cellist of Sarajevo, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

War, Civilians, and Humanity

The Cellist of Sarajevo depicts three weeks during the Siege of Sarajevo, which occurred during the Bosnian War of the 1990s. Rather than primarily portraying soldiers, the novel focuses on civilians. In doing so, Galloway shows that war affects everyone—even those who aren’t directly participating. War upends what people prioritize, how they act and behave, and it alters the most fundamental aspects of how they think.

The most obvious way in which the war changes…

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Hatred and the Other

Despite the immense damage done to the city in the war, Galloway argues that the primary cost of war is that it makes people hate each other. Galloway is curiously inattentive to the racial and religious differences that underpinned the war in Yugoslavia, ignoring altogether the particular animosity that many Serbs and Croats had towards Bosnian Muslims. Instead, the hatred on which Galloway focuses is between opposing armies. He argues (somewhat simplistically) that the primary…

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Art, Culture, and Civilization

In The Cellist of Sarajevo, Galloway portrays art and culture as the core of civilization. He treats them not as luxuries, but as necessities that offer access to a universal humanity that both makes life worth living and combats the hatred exacerbated by war. Galloway is explicit his assessment that the loss of culture profoundly damaged the citizens of Sarajevo during the war. For instance, he describes the burning of the city’s main library…

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As is typical for a war novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo portrays acts of heroism. However, Galloway uses his focus on civilians to expand the definition of war heroism from soldiers’ physical bravery under threat to the more quotidian activities of living life amid violence. Galloway begins his exploration of heroism by showing the way that his characters fail to meet the traditional ideals of heroism. Dragan, an older man who has lived his…

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Reality, Image, and Memory

As the characters in The Cellist of Sarajevo make their way through their devastated city, they are beset by memories of the city as it was before the siege. They find these memories of the old, beautiful city difficult to reconcile with the war-torn city in which they currently live. Even worse, they are faced with the possibility that their city will never return to the way it was before the war, which forces them…

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