The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

Not sure how I feel about this one. It felt overdone, zealous in its efforts to point out the theme and underline the symbolism. Am I one of his students who needs direction? Oh, did I mention, the author is a creative writing teacher at UBC.

Overly simplistic in terms of historical truth (years turned into days for convenience) with naively sentimental characterisation – “Arrow” the sniper will not reveal her true name until she is about to die on principle, this novel frankly annoyed me.

Worse of all, it is based far too loosely on the true story of Vedran Smailovic who was livid at his misappropriation for the sake of the novel’s plot; indeed, he felt that his identity had been stolen and demanded compensation. He did indeed play for 22 days in honour of those killed in a mortar attack while queuing for bread, but far too much in the novel is needlessly fictionalised and lends nothing to the actual telling. Researching the truth after finishing the book, it just made me angry – a mediocre historical fiction was rendered historically meaningless!

The writing style was also frustrating. I felt as though I were constantly being cornered into caring. Subtlety be damned. Leave me alone; I want to care because I can and because the truth of the war demands my caring.

All in all, in light of the immense struggle and heartbreak of all those involved – most notable the cellist himself, the novel is undeserving of the title.

Looking back at my opening line, it appears I am sure how I feel: cheated!

Rating: 2/5

Why? A historical swindle and overly mushy!


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