Summary of The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

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This summary is shown by characters. The book is not in this order. This Summary in no way is a substitution to reading the book.

The Cellist of SarajevoPrologue

The Cellist watches a line of people waiting for their ration through his window. He thinks that he ought to join but decides against it. The he watches a bomb fall and kill them all. He stands by the window all night. The day after he goes to the corner an plays Albioni’s Adagio. He intends to do it for 22 days, as many of people killed.


  1. Arrow is the nickname of a resistance girl. She uses that name because her old name didn’t hate anyone. She is watching at some soldiers she wants to shoot at. When she shoots she realises they’ve been watching her and has to run away as they are bombing the building she is in. She escapes.
    1. She is talking to her unit commander, Nermin. We learn that she learned to shoot before the war, that her father was a policeman and asked Nermin to leave her out of this. It when he died he approached her. At first she was reluctant but then accepted on account that she would work alone and choose her targets. Today he brings her to see the Cellist and asks to keep him alive, it’s his 8th day. They want to kill him but with a bullet, not with a shell, as this would be more significant.
    2. First day protecting the Cellist. She chooses her place and thinks where the sniper will most probably fire from. She places a gun to make him think she is somewhere else. She notices a hole in one of the windows. Two girls bring flowers to the Cellist. No one fires. She feels a loss for not have killed anyone. She feels she has failed but realises that she has not as her job was to keep the Cellist alive.
    3. She thinks about the funeral of a neighbour she attended last month where a shell had landed and everybody had gone into the empty graves except her and a fat man. She reminisces about that neighbour. She goes to protect the Cellist and sees no movement where she thinks the sniper should be. Then she notices a movement in the window where she placed the rifle to make him think she is there and a shot comes through there but doesn’t kill her. She talks to Nermin about the events. The next day (it must be day 11) she is in another building and sees where the sniper is but his hands aren’t on the trigger; he is listening to the music. When the music finishes she fires and kills him. Then she hopes the Cellist will look up at her but doesn’t.
    1. She is having coffee at Nermin Filipović’s office. He tells her to disappear that he can no longer protect her. She leaves and there is a bomb in the office. Firemen come to put out the fire and find no one inside. Though, a few hours later they come out with a body. It is assumed that it is Nermin’s. She is home and is awaken in the middle of the night by some soldiers. They make her go to see some Colonel Karaman who says that she has been assigned to him and that she must go to see her new spotter who will tell her her first assignment. She has been refusing to everything all the time but is forced into it.
    2. She is taken to the Parliament, the tallest building in the city, that has been bombed and fired several times. She meets Hasan who brings her to the 14th floor and tells her to shoot at a civilian. She refuses and points at a military man. He says she has no choice and says that he is no mere civilian, that if he is alive and free is because he is from their side, a father or uncle, and thus deserves to die. She finally refuses and leaves. As she is leaving, she realises its is almost 4pm and runs.
  2. She has been in hiding for the last ten days on the building above the Cellist. She hasn’t had to fire but thinks her being there has helped keep the Cellist alive. The last day has already happened and saw the Cellist play, stay a while, cry, and leave the bow on the pile of flowers. She goes and leaves her riffle. She is now on her bed. Footsteps are are coming to get her. She doesn’t care. She closes her eyes and when the door flings open she shouts that her name is Alisa.


  1. Kenan is married to Amila and has three kids: Mak, Sanja and Aida. He washes himself with the last remaining water in the house. He is about to go out to go out to get fresh water in canisters. He also brings two bottles for his neighbour Mrs Ristovski. When his wife awakes before he goes, they joke like the situation was normal, about buying hats and clothes.
    1. He used to work as an accountant. He is walking towards the brewery to get water. He bumps into a friend, Ismet, a soldier who sometimes visits and tells him about the life at the front line, where guns and other necessities are scarce. He offers him a cigarette which he only accepts after Ismet insists. They joke about eating meat but Ismet says it’s better a centipede. He passes the Music Academy where sometimes he hears music. He thinks about the tram and how it was the sign that the war had started when they sopped working. The war won’t end until they work again. He thinks of when then war started an how he was at work. He thinks about how the city was before the war, the Turkish quarter, the assassination of the heir to the throne, the great fire… He meets a man hi escaped some firing and who recommends him to use another bridge, that will make his trip rather longer. He meets a man who is “fishing” pigeons. They joke.
    2. He sees a couple cross the bridge and no one shoots. A woman comes and they talk a bit about crossing. He crosses and gets to the brewery. He thinks of the day the library was bombed and fired as well as the day he met Mrs Ristovski.
    3. He gets to the brewery where the water springs are. The water runs all the time and he thinks it is a waste. He watches a man with a dog that fills his bottles and the thermos of the dog. While he is filling his bottles a shell falls close to him and he is sent to the ground but not hurt. The man of the dog has lost his dog, a woman has lost a foot, there are people hurt, blood everywhere. He is paralysed and he feels ashamed that he hasn’t moved to help anyone. He finishes filling his bottles and leaves. He choses a almost torn bridge to cross over, with difficulty. He has to live Mrs Ristovski’s bottles hidden on the one side as he cannot manage with all of them.
  2. After the bridge he meets Ismet who tells him to accompany him to the market. He is waiting for him and sees a man who is clearly getting benefit of the war. A track that Kenan had seen before filling up with water comes by and the driver talks to the man. They are selling water. Later on he sees Ismet trading three packs of cigarets (which is his army pay) for rice that was international aid. He sees people gathering and joins. The Cellist plays and Kenan is transported. The city is rebuilt, he goes to his family and they go out to have ice-cream. When the music ends he is back at the same miserable war.
  3. It’s four days later and he is again preparing himself to go to get water but this time it is different as it is the last day the Cellist is going to play. He has gone to listen to him every day since.


  1. Dragan’s wife Raza and child Davor are now out of the country, in Italy, but he stayed with his sister. He works at bakery for forty years and eats there, and brings bread back to his sister and her husband. He try’s to remember Sarajevo as it was before the war. He has seen three people being killed. Although he isn’t afraid of dying, he is afraid of the moments between being shot and actually dying. He waits at an intersection to cross, like others, while watching a couple on the move. They are shot at but missed.
    1. At the intersection where he is, he runs into an old friend of his wife, Emina, although he tries not to catch her attention. They update each other. Her husband, whom he didn’t like much, has surprisingly joined the army. She is on her way to deliver medicine to an old lady who needs it and she learned through the radio. He tries to cross and is shot at but not hurt.
    2. Emina and he talk for a while. She tries to be optimistic but shows sometimes deception. He is definitely pessimistic and a little bit tired of it all. They talk about the Cellist. People cross safely. She tries crossing at the same time of people from both sides, including a man on a hat and his female companion, and a young man. They shoot at Emina and is hurt but not dead. The young man brings her back to where Dragan is. The man in the hat is shot and dies after a while, his hat flying to where Dragan is.
    1. Emina is hurt on her arm but not badly. She says she wanted to go see the Cellist. Some people take her to the hospital. Before that, they had removed her coat and given it to Dragan. When they are gone he notices the medicines in its pocket. He thinks of how it would be to go through the tunnel underneath the Airport and cross over to freedom and travel to Rome where his wife and son are. But he doesn’t want to be Italian, he wants to be from Sarajevo. He thinks about the people up the mountain and if they feel good or bad about what they are doing. He also feels coward not to have helped Emina. He remembers how a month back he had been taken to the front line by some army people and made dig trenches for three days before his boss had interceded.
    2. There is a cameraman on the other side of the street. A young man crosses the street but no one fires. Dragan doesn’t want the cameraman to film the hatless man laying dead on the street so he goes to carry his body to safety. They fire at him but miss him. He covers him with Emina’s coat and his hat.
  2. He crosses the bridge without hesitation. He is going to get the bread and going to listen to the Cellist.

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