Disscus some of the primary themes in The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Steven Galloway's novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo, several themes run through the story, delivered through the hope, dreams and fears of the four main characters.

The first character is the cellist: he is playing "Albinoni's Adagio." While he plays, people stand in line nearby waiting for bread. In the blink of an eye, a shell explodes where once a group of people stood hungry—now there is only a crater surrounded by the wreckage of buildings and human beings. It is in that crater, a full day later, that the cellist stands and begins to play the Adagio again—for twenty-two days he plays, one day for each lost soul. The cellist is our first character.

The second character is Arrow (not her real name), a sniper with a personal code of honor: while other snipers kill indiscriminately, she will only kill soldiers, for they attack "unarmed civilians." Arrow shoots and the cellist plays—two people from the same area, but living very different lives. (Ultimately, she will be asked to protect the cellist.)

The third character is Kenan. He has traveled alone to the brewery in attempt to collect water for his family and a neighbor. He must travel in this solitary way so that no one in the family is placed in danger—Kenan fears the snipers. He feels a heavy responsibility—for he does not know how his family would survive if he were shot and killed.

The final character we meet is Dragan, the baker. He has sent his family from the city. He trades bread for shelter. But the fighting has taken its toll on him and he struggles, unable to differentiate between what Sarajevo was and what it has become. He seems to think that if he isolates himself, he will be safe. However, putting one's head in the sand does not work. In his "waking dream," his mind turns away from the reality that is his home, to a time when...

...people were happy, treated each other well, lived without conflict.

The Sarajevo of the past has been replaced with a worn-torn city, where people act in ways that are foreign to Dragan, and perhaps foreign even to those people committing those same "acts."

One theme is the desire to hold onto one's homeland, whatever its condition—a common response among all four characters. There is also the desire to protect those around them who they love: the community of family, friends and the less fortunate is important to our characters.

An important themes that allows all of these characters to move forward is the hope that comes to them from the cellist's music: perhaps this is something for them to hold on to, to hope for—a return to the way things used to be. The theme here may be that music transcends even war.

However, maybe the most human element thematically is that good people are often called to move out of their comfort zones, challenged to decide who they are and how they want to have the world see them—who they want see when they face themselves in the mirror. The search for self and personal meaning in a world torn by war is a theme that lies beneath the rest. War does not have to define the man (or woman). The desire of these people to hold onto their humanity is a central to this theme. In the strength of these characters may lie the future of Sarajevo, and the music is the thread of hope moving between their lives, connecting them all.