Steven Galloway's novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo, in based on the lives of two "real" people living in Sarajevo (Bosnia), while the other two characters are fictional. The first character is the cellist. He is playing "Albinoni's Adagio" on the street one day, and nearby there is a group of about twenty people in line to buy bread. In the twinkling of an eye, a mortar shell drops in this part of town and though the cellist survives, all of those waiting for bread have been killed. The following day, standing in the same crater of destruction, the cellist begins to play and continues for twenty-two days: one day for each person lost. (This war will last four years.)
Another major character (based upon a woman living in Sarajevo at this time) is known as Arrow. (This is not her real name: she hopes to be able to put her present-day identity behind her someday after the war is over.) She is a sniper, but unlike the soldiers who kill indiscriminately, she kills only soldiers—those who take the lives of unarmed citizens. Ultimately, she will be asked to protect the life of the cellist.
The third [fictional] character is the baker, Dragan. While he still works and lives in the city, his family (wife and son) do not. (He survives by trading bread for shelter.) He is afraid to go to work each day for fear that a sniper will end his life. He lives in a world of his own making: among memories of the way life used to be—the way this town that he loves was before the war.
Every day the Sarajevo he thinks he remembers slips away from him a little at a time, like water cupped in the palms of his hands, and when it’s gone he wonders what will be left. He isn’t sure what it will be like to live without remembering how life used to be, what it was like to live in a beautiful city.
He hopes that someday that time and that town will return.
The final character, also fictionaly, is Kenan who travels abroad to find drinking water for his family and his neighbor. While the work is not easy, he cannot ask any other family members to go with him because of the danger to them, and he worries about who would care for them if he were killed.
The lives of these four people are interwoven in the midst of fighting and death that has fallen on Sarajevo. Survival is one theme, but maintaining hope when all else seems lost is what these four do. The reader is presented not only with the story of fighting, but the spirit of those living with it everyday. It speaks to the desire of people to rise above the hopelessness and death around them. Our characters don't want to lose their identity, even as the city seems to lose its identity. Though tired of war and all that comes with it, they don't give up. This is a story of a few occupants of Sarajevo who have been called to "arms" in the face of attack, who try—even as they become strangers compared to who they were before—to hold on to their own humanity, as well as the their morals and values.