The Cellist of Sarajevo

by Steven Galloway

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What happens during the siege of Sarajevo in The Cellist of Sarajevo?

Quick answer:

What is happening during the siege of Sarajevo is that the city and its people are under constant attack from Bosnian Serb soldiers. This historic city, the capital of Bosnia, is being slowly destroyed and its people worn down through constant war.

Yet despite the dangers, the eponymous cellist goes down into the market place where twenty-two people were recently killed by a Serb mortar. He vows to play an adagio there each day for twenty-two days.

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During the Bosnian War, the capital city of Bosnia, Sarajevo, was besieged by Bosnian Serb forces. They bombarded the city with mortars as well as picking off civilians with sniper fire. The Serbian siege created a massive humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands of citizens trapped in the besieged city.

In one of their most notorious war crimes, the Bosnian Serbs launch a mortar attack on the market place, killing twenty-two civilians. The people of Sarajevo, already worn down by the siege, are petrified as to what might happen next.

It is in this atmosphere of crippling fear that the cellist of the title makes the extraordinary decision to play an adagio in the market place each day for the next twenty-two. An adagio is a piece of music played at a slow tempo, often a very sad piece, just the kind of music appropriate for those poor souls killed by Bosnian Serb mortars and sniper fire.

The cellist chooses to play his music right at the exact spot where the twenty-two people were killed. This is highly symbolic: he wants to show everyone that life can still go on even in the midst of a barbaric siege that has already claimed the lives of many innocent people and will claim the lives of many more.

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