Monday, April 20, 2009

Personal Reflection

To be blunt, I have never been a big fan of Independent Studies, or even English for that matter. I would say that I am still on that same page at the conclusion of this project. However, I did really love this book. I picked it up because I tend to like adventure stories with enthralling plots and fast-paced action. The Cellist of Sarajevo was not like that at all, but it was still a very enjoyable read for me. Reading this novel exposed me to a kind of literature that I usually run away screaming from: a recount or real historical events. Steven Galloway made his novel interesting by involving characters that, although they were not real people, very easily could be. This book had a very humane and realistic vibe to it that was complimented by the knowledge that the siege of Sarajevo is a tragedy that really did happen not too long ago. I found it to be very relatable, and perhaps that was the gripping factor for me.

I would say that I am a stronger writer that I was at the beginning of this ISU. Being forced to write in response style, then opinionated and using quotes from the book and book reviews all the while has definitely tested and improved my writing. Having a world-wide audience did not really affect what I wrote, just the way in which I wrote it. I did more editing and noticed that my thoughts were coming out sounding more organized and sensible than they do in my head. Knowing that anyone can read what I write made me want to be more formal about the whole thing.

So what have I learned about Canadian literature? Well, I’ve learned that it’s fantastic! I have discovered that it really as not all boring, long and cryptic. Reading this novel I learned a lot about history, and I learned a touching, timeless lesson on perseverance and what it means to work together and never ever give up hope.


The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway is "a profoundly moving and universal novel about what it means to be human in the face of atrocity." (The Cellist of Sarajevo - Book Review) It’s the incredibly humane and realistic quality of this novel that gripped me as the reader. It wasn’t the setting or the plot, although they complimented the theme nicely. "The themes and characters [in this novel] exist wherever ordinary people find themselves caught in war. Sarajevo could have been Lebannon or Chechnva or Iraq or a half-dozen other places." (The Cellist of Sarajevo - Book Review) And the fact that the situation in this novel is so real and is happening in our world today makes it so much easier to be immersed in the story.

This novel is based on the events that occurred in Sarajevo in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The sniping from the men on the hills and the innocent deaths and struggles of men, women and children in the city are real tragedies from the past. However, it’s not this idea of it being a ‘true story’ that makes it so real and human. It is the way in which the characters are so imperfect, broken and accordingly real that they remind us of someone we know, or maybe even ourselves. It’s the theme of perseverance and never ever giving up and doing the right thing by reaching out to someone else even if it doesn’t benefit you. It’s the manner of which these brave people struggle not to give in, to let the war make their decisions and steal their humanity. In any ordinary adventure noel there are struggles, usually overcome by the amazing hero who is not wavered by anything. However, this novel is more human than any of those because the characters, try as they might, cannot always keep up their hope. They falter, and they are scared. Dragan doesn’t rescue Emina, he watches as someone else does. Kenan doesn’t help the wounded after the explosion, as he can’t even make himself move. Arrow kills the sniper when he was only enjoying the cellist’s music. They all make mistakes and they all lose and regain hope. This is what makes them so incredibly human and so much more real than the heroes of adventure stories.

Steven Galloway "really wanted to write a book about what high-pressure, wartime situations do to ordinary people — not professional soldiers, or generals or politicians." (Music for a Broken City) It is these ordinary people in his book that make the story so relatable. Readers can relate their lives to the situations of the characters. Maybe one reader is a cellist, or one works at a bakery, like Dragan. It might be easy for them to see how their lives differ from those in the novel. It might not be as easy for them to see what they would do in the place of one of the characters.

This novel and it’s author are each a prize in Canadian literature. It’s not hard to find a writer who can create exciting dramatic plots, or paint meticulous settings in your head, or make up charismatic and heroic characters. However, an author who can create a work of such humanity in a style in which mostly any age of reader can enjoy is a gem. The Cellist or Sarajevo is timeless. There will never come a time when suffering and struggles will not be a part of humanity, and so this book will always touch every person who reads it. The theme of reaching out to others and banding together to keep up each other’s hope will always inspire awe and grief and pathos in the reader, driving them to do the same with their life.

Explication of Self-Sacrafice for an Ideal in The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

In the novel The Cellist of Sarajevo you couldn’t possibly find a more obvious and touching theme than self-sacrifice for an ideal. The ideal being, of course, a city not destroyed by war, streets not subject to sniper fire, homes not victim of shelling, and citizens’ spirits not broken.

This novel is about 4 very different human beings attempting to survive in their city through the terror or sniping on the streets and random shelling of markets, hospitals, homes and other places. They seem to not be connected at all at first. However as the story evolves, it is clear that they all are connected by the cellist’s music. Or, more exclusively, the hope it brings to them. Throughout the novel, they must decide “whether or not they will allow the war to make decisions for them and steal their humanity, or if instead they will reach out to [one] another and do what is right, even if it means they will not survive.” (The Cellist of Sarajevo – Book Review) Though they stumble, and their hope falters, they are all sacrificing something tremendous in order to try to rebuild their city.

Every 4 days, Kenan walks to the brewery to get water for his family and for the grouchy, uncooperative and ungrateful Ms. Ristovski. He faces death every day for the good of his family, which many might do. He also risks quite a lot for Ms. Ristovski. Why? When Kenan hears the cellist play he “watches as his city heals itself around him.” (The Cellist of Sarajevo) He knows that the only way to rebuild his beloved city is by helping others, even if the favor is not returned or even appreciated. Kenan is “tired of getting water, and he’s tired of the world he lives in. He’s tired of carrying water for a woman who has never had a kind word to say to him,” (The Cellist of Sarajevo) but he still does it. He knows that when people stop helping one another and stop hoping is when the city will truly be destroyed.

The cellist makes a sacrifice every day for twenty two days. He sits in the middle of the street playing his cello. What does he hope to accomplish? He won’t bring back the dead, he won’t save the living, and he won’t replace a single shattered window or brick. The ideal that he makes self-sacrifice for is hope, and his music does give people hope. He is putting his life on the line to play a song on his cello, a seemingly insignificant thing to do. However, the cellist knows that what his city needs is a new hope. Something beautiful in the midst of terror to remind them of what they are fighting for. Playing the cello is all he can do, and so he throws himself into it completely and hopes that others will do what they can and make sacrifices as well for the ideal of a united and rebuilt city.

Dragan and Arrow make sacrifices too. As well as Emina, Nermin, Kenan’s wife and children, and many other people in this story who help the wounded, rescue a stranger, or share their food with a neighbor. The futility of war is manifested a million times in the hopes and wishes of these people. They are in no way responsible for it, but still they suffer. They do their best to face it with hope and courage, making small sacrifices that help others in a big way. All of these brave individuals are each sacrificing a little, or in some cases a lot for the sake of their city and the citizens. They are all working toward the shinning ideal of a new hope for a broken city.

Works Cited

Chopra, Swati. “Positive Chronicles – The Cellist of Sarajevo.” 2008. (19 Apr 2008)

Galloway, Steven. The Cellist of Sarajevo. Toronto: Random House of Canada Limited, 2008.

Grace, Gillian. “Music for a Broken City.” 2008. (19 Apr 2008)

N/A. “The Cellist of Sarajevo – Book Review.” 2008. (19 Apr 2008)

Tripathy, Gautami. “The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.” 2009. (19 Apr 2008)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Response #4 Arrow (page 217-end)

Arrow is a very gifted female sniper who shoots at the men who shoot at the civilians of Sarajevo. She works for Nermin but does her own thing, except when he assigns her the task of protecting the cellist. When Nermin dies her new commander tries to make her shoot at civilians who are of the same religion as the Serbs shooting from the hills. Arrow runs away even though she knows they will find and kill her. She runs away to protect the cellist on his last day because she knows it is the right thing to do, and she is tired of the war. When Arrow joined the war I think she changed her name because she did not want the person that she was to be associated with killing people. She does not want the hatred that she feels towards the men on the hills to be any part of her former self. She plans on returning to her old self after the war, but knows it will not be easy. When Arrow hears the men coming to kill her she knows she could kill them all but she doesn’t. She just waits. I believe that now that the cellist is finished, Arrow feels like her work is done. She is tired of the war. Tired of killing and tired of hating. She doesn’t want to kill and hate anymore so she will let the men kill her. Just before they burst into her room “she says, her voice strong and quiet, ‘My name is Alisa’.” This is the last line of the book. I think Arrow says this because now that she is done killing and hating she wants to return to her old self, but she has no time because the men are going to kill her. Saying her name out loud after not even thinking it for so long is her way resigning. She is no longer Arrow who shoots to kill and hates the men on the hills for what they did to her city, and for making her hate them. She is now Alisa. Young, happy, and free of hate. She makes this connection with her old self and remembers what her life was like before the war. Perhaps she would have gone to school, or traveled, and gotten married. The possibilities were endless. The one thing Arrow does know is that this war and hatred is not necessary. “The men on the hills did not have to be murderers. She did not have to be filled with hatred.” As she listens to the cellist on his last day, the music brings these thoughts to the surface along with her tears. I believe it is then that she decides she is done with the war. She lays her rifle in the pile of flowers at the feet of the cellist. She is done killing. Done hating. “The men on the hills, the men in the city, herself, none of them had the right to do the things they’d done. It had never happened. It could not have happened. But she knew these notes. They had become a part of her. They told her that everything had happened exactly as she knew it had, and that nothing could be done about it. No grief or rage or noble act could undo it.” As Arrow realizes that this all could have been so easily stopped, she decides she will do her part to not let it continue. I think this is why she lays down her rifle, goes home and lets the men kill her. When she whispers her name, to her it means that she is dying the peaceful, carefree Alisa that could have lead a normal, happy life had it not been for the war and the hatred. She is dying free.

Response #3 Kenan (page 155-216)

Kenan goes to the brewery because it is the only place in the city to get clean water. He risks his life and walks a very long way once every 4 days or so to get the water for his family, and also for his unappreciative, uncooperative widowed neighbor Mrs. Ristovski. While Kenan is at the brewery it is shelled and he witnesses many people die and be injured, while narrowly avoiding death himself. Kenan classifies the citizens at the brewery into 3 categories: those who ran when the shell struck, those who desperately try to save the people who can be saved, and those who stand with their mouths gaping and do nothing. Kenan is part of the third group, but he wishes he were part of the second. He has to leave by a route that is not being shelled so he takes a half destroyed bridge that he can only cross with his water first, and then go back for Mrs. Ristovski’s because she was so stubborn and would not give him bottles with handles. I began thinking as soon as Kenan asks Mrs. Ristovski for her bottles, why does he get her water? She in not ever grateful and she is very rude to him. So why does he do her this favour? Is it because he feels bad for her, or is afraid of what she will do or what she will blame on him if he doesn’t? Maybe Kenan does it purely out of the goodness of his heart and doesn’t care that she is ungrateful. Or perhaps he can’t find it in him to tell her ‘no’. Kenan begins to think about this as he crosses the bridge. Why is she so darn stubborn? There is no reason that she could not find some bottles with handles, he has even offered her his extras. Why does he even bother getting her water? She is the most unappreciative person in the world. He made her a promise to help her at the beginning of the war but so what? She has never helped him, never been kind, welcoming, or even thankful to him. Kenan is tired. “He’s tired of getting water, and he’s tired from the world he lives in. He’s tired of carrying water for a woman who has never had a kind word to say to him, who acts as if she’s doing him a favour, whose bottles don’t have handles and who refuses to switch. If she likes the bottles so much, she should carry them to the brewery, she should watch as the street fills with blood and then washes itself clean... while the dead are loaded into a van.” Kenan leaves Mrs. Ristovski’s bottles in a small hole on the other side of the bridge and continues home without them.

On his way home Kenan hears the cellist play and he “watches as his city heals itself around him”. He watches the people stand up taller and watches happiness appear in their features, but then the music stops and it is all gone. Kenan decides to go back and get Mrs. Ristovski’s water. I think when the cellist’s music stops Kenan realizes that even the people who are still alive are the “dead among the living” and he wonders what killed Mrs. Ristovski, because she is a ghost. Was it her husband dying so many years ago, or something else? Kenan doesn’t want to be a ghost. He wants to live and help rebuild his beloved city. I think he knows he will rebuild it by being like the second group at the brewery and helping others. I think this is why he goes back to get the water. He has realized that the only way people will make it through this war is by helping each other, regardless of whether the favour is returned, or even appreciated.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Response #2 Dragan (page 45-154)

When Dragan first sees Emina he hopes she doesn’t notice him and won’t try to talk to him. I don’t think he’s being rude when he thinks this. He just doesn’t want to be reminded of the way things used to be, when he could stop and get caught up with an old friend in the street without being shot at. Dragan “can perhaps learn to bear the destruction of buildings, but the destruction of the living is too much for him”. So he doesn’t want to talk to Emina because he doesn’t want to see how the war has changed her. However, Emina spots him and asks about his wife, and they begin to talk against Dragan’s will at first. When the topic shifts to the war, Dragan puts a wall up and that is why he is unnecessarily harsh with Emina when he says “No one is coming. Don’t you know that?” Emina answers “I know no one is coming. I just don’t want to believe it”. This gets them talking again and Dragan seems more comfortable with the conversation. I think this is because he has found someone who he feels he can open up to. When Dragan decides to cross the street and is shot at, he runs back to Emina, “glad for the first time in a long while to be alive”. I believe this is a turning point for Dragan. The fact that he is happy to be alive surprises him and I think he realizes how long he has been living without really caring if he lived or died. This spurs him to ask Emina “do you think it’s worse to be wounded or killed?” When Emina answers wounded because you have a chance to live, Dragan disagrees and argues with her that you would just die later anyway. Dragan doesn’t know why he keeps saying these horrible things, but he can’t stop himself. I think he is looking for answers, and searching for hope. He is arguing, but he wants Emina to prove him wrong by telling him about all the people who have survived, but she can’t. He wants her to say that there is a chance to live so that he can find hope. She doesn’t speak for a while, and then tells him about the cellist. After another pause Dragan says “Why did the Sarajevan cross the road? To get to the other side.” It is a bad joke, but he doesn’t care. “He hasn’t told a joke in months. It feels good, even if the joke is awful.” As Dragan and Emina talk I think he somehow begins to find that little bit of hope that he has been waiting for. Little by little as he talks to her he finds that he seems to care more. About living and about the well being of others. When Emina decides to cross Dragan stays because only minutes ago he was shot at while trying to cross. I think Dragan would have normally just gone with Emina, but with this new outlook that he has, he cares more about living. He also feels scared for the first time in a long period of time in which I think he felt nothing but attempted indifference and numbness. When he hugs her, Emina feels “more substantial” because he has realized that even though the war has changed her, the same person is still in there, which reminds him that hope and fight are still within him.