The Cellist of Sarajevo Summary

Summary

The Cellist

The musician had been the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra, until the soldiers came and perched themselves on the hills surrounding the city. The resulting siege has been inexorable, and the city is being destroyed. Worst of all, the siege is destroying souls.

One afternoon, the cellist is standing by his window, watching his neighbors line up in the street below to buy bread. A mortar explodes among them. Exactly twenty-four hours later, the cellist descends the staircase leading from his apartment, carrying his cello and a stool to the small crater that marks the mortar's point of impact. In utter sadness, he sits and plays Albonini's Adagio, a composition which symbolizes hope rising from the ashes. The cellist resolves to do this each day for twenty-two days, one day for each of the twenty-two human beings killed there at that spot. He is not sure that he will survive, or that he even has twenty-two adagios in him, but he will try.

Arrow

Arrow is not the real name of the young sniper who works alone, picking off the men on the hills who are destroying her city. It is the name she took when she discovered she hated those men in the hills; the woman she used to be hated nobody. When the war began, Arrow had been a member of the university sharp-shooting team. She had been approached by NerminFilipovic, a professional soldier, and asked to use her skills to shoot the enemy on the hills. At first, Arrow had refused. She did not want to shoot at people, but Nermin had convinced her that she would be saving lives. Arrow had finally relented, but insisted that she would not kill blindly, just because someone said she must.

One day, Nermin takes Arrow to the heart of the city, where a shell had landed a few days before, killing a large number of people. As they wait, a tall man with "the saddest face she has ever seen" emerges from a building, calmly sets down a stool and sits on it, and begins to play an instrument. Arrow listens and is taken back into an absurd blend of memories, past and present. When the musician is finished, Nermin tells Arrow that the cellist has pledged to play for twenty-two days; this is the eighth day, and the opposition is determined to eliminate him because of what he stands for. It is Arrow's assignment to keep the cellist alive.

In the morning, Arrow explores the area surrounding the spot where the cellist will perform later that day. She cannot fathom what he hopes to achieve with his playing, but she senses that somehow it is important. Arrow is very good at what she does and soon has determined the most likely location from which the enemy will choose to fire. She picks her own spot, sets her trap, and waits. When the cellist comes out, Arrow knows that his killer is ready, but nothing happens. The music begins and ends, and the cellist retreats; he is still alive and will return to play again tomorrow.

The next day, acutely aware of the enemy's presence, Arrow again lies in wait. As the cellist begins his piece, she realizes that she is learning to anticipate the notes of the sad dirge and is simultaneously mystified as to why the sniper does not make his move. Suddenly, she inexplicably senses danger and hits the floor as a bullet rips into her own window. Outwitted, she waits for the sound of the second shot that will kill the cellist, but it does not come, and she does not know why.

On Arrow's third day and the cellist's tenth, she watches and waits yet again. This time, she has the enemy sniper in her sights. When she sees that he has a clear shot but does not take it, she is confused, but then she studies his face through her scope and perceives that he is listening to the music. Arrow "does not want to pull her trigger...because she can see that he doesn't want to pull his," but she knows what she must do. As the music ends, she takes her shot, hitting the sniper squarely between the eyes.

Nermin is glad when Arrow reports that she has neutralized the enemy sniper, but he also has other things on his mind. The defenders of the city have broken into factions, and he can no longer protect Arrow from those who are corrupt; it is time for her to disappear. Soon after she leaves Nermin, the building in which he has his headquarters explodes, and he is killed. Arrow considers fleeing the city, but she knows that she will lose something of herself if she does.

Colonel Edin Karaman, the leader of the new controlling faction of the military, summons Arrow and tells her that she is now under his command. As a test of her skills, she is ordered to shoot a civilian, but she refuses. Arrow goes into hiding, but continues to watch over the cellist. His music has become a part of her; it affirms her certainty "that the world still [holds] the capacity for goodness."

Kenan

Kenan looks to be over fifty, but he is only thirty-nine. He lives with his wife and children in an apartment in Sarajevo. There has been no functioning sewage system in the city since the beginning of the siege, and electricity is available for only a few hours a day. Worst of all, there is no running water, so every four days, Kenan gathers all the plastic bottles he can carry and makes the dangerous trek across the city to the brewery, where water can be gathered from an underground spring. On the way, he stops at the apartment of his neighbor, Mrs. Ristovski, a cantankerous old woman who lives alone. Kenan fetches water for her too, even though she is rude and ungrateful, and will give him only bottles without handles, which are particularly difficult to carry on his arduous journey.

Kenan is terrified of the trip he must make, but somehow he finds the strength, because he must. As he traverses the city, he views the destruction all around. Food is scarce, but still, in the midst of deprivation, there are men who drive around in fancy sports cars. They are clearly the beneficiaries of the black market industry, and Kenan wonders what kind of men they are that they can justify profiting off "trapped and starving people like him."

Kenan manages...

(The entire section is 2496 words.)