Adonis Diaries

Sitting in a deserted street, amid the shelling of Sarajevo, he played his Cello.

Posted on: October 16, 2019

Sitting in a deserted street, amid the shelling of Sarajevo, he played his Cello.

Note: updating this book review of 2013

“The Cello Player of Sarajevo” by Steven Galloway

On May 27, 1992 and at 4 pm, a shell killed 22 civilians lined up in front of a bakery in besieged Sarajevo.

Over 70 persons were also injured as the shell fell behind Vase Miskina market.

The cello player, Vedran Smailovic, decided to play the Adagio on C minor of Albinoni for 22 days, at the same hour of 4 pm and at the location the shell fell.

Galloway designed his novel to revolve around three fictional characters: Kenan, Dragan and the 30 year-old girl sniper “Arrow” (Fleche or Strijela)

Kenan is married with 3 kids and is living in terror every time he has to go and fetch water. Every 4 days, the family consumes the 6 plastic gallons of potable water brought from the underground fresh water situated in the brewery, 7 miles away.

Kenan has to take great risks crossing streets targeted by shells and snipers from the hills, particularly in crossing the bridges of the river to the other side.

Before starting his dangerous trip, Kenan slumbers on the staircase wall in order to capture enough courage and determination to get going: He is very afraid of this war that is harvesting people indiscriminately.

At one of his dangerous trips, several shells were lodged at the brewery as he was filling his bottles. Scores of people were killed and many injured. Kenan realized that he belong to the category of people who neither run away immediately or try to come to rescue injured people around him.

Kenan just stays around watching the scene of carnage, until he recovers his hearing sensation and feel fit to resume his trip back home…

On the way, he met his friend Ismet, a soldier who gets paid with cigarettes, which he barter with goods in the semi-black market: Most of the foodstuff in the market were offered by the humanitarian aids and which ended up being handled by the gangsters and “nouveaux riches”, those who drives Mercedes and have water delivered to their homes.

Kenan will keep going to the brewery for water: He is the one with all the other people who resumed their daily routine for survival and who will rebuild the city, Not the war criminals.

Dragan, 64 of age, managed to whisk away his wife and boy of 18 year-old to migrate to Italy as the war approached. Dragan knows that he would not see his family again: the wives who got away from the besieged city have been mailing divorce papers. He is now living with his sister and brother-in-law since his apartment was demolished by shells.

He recalls when the militia in the city dragged him to dig ditches at the front line as the war started. The diggers were forgotten for 3 days and didn’t have anything to eat. The owner of the bakery managed to locate where Dragan was, and got him back to work at the bakery.

It turned out that the gang leader was being paid by the head of recruits.

Dragan is now on a dangerous trip to buy bread, many miles away and is not ready to cross a street where a sniper has already killed and injured many civilians who dared to cross to the other side.

Dragan is not a talker and he has been avoiding to meet and open any conversation with people he used to know. The sniper injured one of his close acquaintances Amina and he could not master enough courage to retrieve her to safety.  Amina was to deliver outdated medicines to an elderly person, as a swap program among the inhabitants for lack of medication.

On the other side was a foreign cameraman trying to get interesting pictures of people crossing the deadly street. And Dragan got upset: This city would not be worth saving if dead people are not removed from the street for fear of being shot at.

Dragan decided to walk the 15 meters separating him from a killed passerby and dragged the body to a safe place, even though the sniper tried twice to hit him.

Dragan will deliver the medicines in the name of his injured friend before passing and retrieving his loaf of bread.

And Dragan witnessed that stray dogs, walking with a determined “dogged” mind: They had a destination to arrive at and didn’t stop to sniff the dead bodies. However, dogs knew the dangerous crossing, and would look at the hills before crossing. Maybe the dogs could be used to sense danger ahead of time?

Arrow is an exceptional sniper and she target officers in the hills. She works independently as she is entitled to select her own target.

Her commander assigned her the task of foiling snipers sent to kill the cello player. One of the sniper listened with total reverence to the music. As he was about to shoot the player after the piece finished, Arrow killed the sniper.

Things changed in war politics in the city. Her commander was assassinated and the new colonel wanted Arrow to work under his directives. The colonel wants to test Arrow for her readiness to target civilians, on the ground that this war is “between us and them”: There will be no difference between officers, soldiers or civilian.

As Hasan, the one designated to select for Arrow her targets put it: “They killed by father and my younger brother at home. I have no idea what happened to my mother and sister. I wish they are dead instead of slaving for these murderers…”

Arrow refused this deal of having civilian targets assigned to her, and resumed her unfinished job of protecting the cello player from any further assassination attempts.

Arrow is supposed to disappear and for 10 days she did just that, until the cello player finished his last “concert”. Arrow is back to her apartment, waiting for the military to barge in and assassinate her with “rashak” of bullets…

Note 1: The siege of Sarajevo (500,000 inhabitant at the time) lasted from April 5, 1992 to Feb. 29, 1996. The Serb forces had occupied all the hills surrounding Sarajevo in a valley. The only link to the outside was a tunnel under the airport.

The airport was monitored by an International force. Obviously, the Serb knew about the tunnel that served their interests: They could trade food with the city at exorbitant prices and received appliances at modicum prices, which families bartered  for foodstuff in order to survive.

The criminal barons  and gangs within the city had already invested the army as professional soldiers and officers and they were controlling the black market.

The UN estimated that ten thousands were killed and 100,000 injured. Over 10,000 apartment totally demolished and 100,000 seriously damaged, or 25% of the total buildings.

Note 2Vedran Smailovic managed to leave Sarajevo on December 1993 and is currently residing in North Ireland

Note 3: in 1945, an Italian musicology discovered 4 tempo of the bass partition of a burned sonata in the ruins of Dresden. He was convinced the tempo were composed by the 17th century Venice Tomaso Albinoni, and spent 12 years reconstituting how the original could have been composed. It’s a fake Adagio, but very beautiful.

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