Volunteering to shelve books at the West Custer County Library is such a blessing. If you are like me, when you typically go to the library as a patron, you look for the newest best seller… maybe you heard an interview with the author on National Public Radio or you read an article in The New York Times Review of Books. You want to gain entrance to the hive of bees and join in the buzz.
But shelving takes you away from the allure of new, hot-off-the-press books. Leaving the section devoted to newly acquired books, you find yourself shelving books in sections that you typically avoid. It is not so much as you avoid these sections, but because you’ve already “filled-up” at the new-book-filling-station, you are through… ready to check out.
And so on a shelving day… travelling aisles far and wide, I always come home with unexpected treasure. This week’s find was pure gold. Someone had returned THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO by Steven Galloway, 2008. Rather than shelve the book in with the old, has-been fiction, I clutched it to my chest and brought it home where I read it and went online to order my own copy.
The author noted that although his novel was based on the three-year conflict in Sarajevo, he condensed the timeframe to one short month. His novel centers on the cellist, in real life Vedran Smailovic, and three citizens (degraded and exhausted by the indiscriminate killing) who are moved through the music to become more humane. Vedran Smailovic played in front of National Library for 22 days in memory of the 22 work-a-day citizens who died while standing in line for bread. 70 were wounded.
Usually, Smailovic would open with incidental music, but if he felt especially low, when he needed just one uplifting thing, a crack in the door that would just let in a little light, he would end his performance with Tomaso Albinoni‘s Adagio in D Minor. (If I had to choose just one piece of music, it would be the Adagio in D Minor.) The music that Smailovic chose was fitting just based on its haunting score, but Smailovic’s choice also has an interesting historic thread.
Albinoni was a 17th Century Baroque composer but much of his work was lost during World War II when Allied Forces destroyed the Dresden State Library. (On Feb 13, 1945, 1,2000 heavy bombers dropped 4,000 tons of incendiary bombs killing 25,000 people and destroying 75,000 dwellings.) As for Albinoni’s lost score, Remo Giazotto salvaged the base line and six bars for the first violin of Albinoni’s manuscript, and the music we really hear is not Albinoni but Giazotto’s interpretation in honor of Albinoni. As to Smailovic’s choosing to play the Adagio in D Minor, the out-of-the-ashes metaphor is strong. His music did make a difference – a moment of beauty amongst the devastation.
In the beginning of The Cellist of Sarajevo, Galloway quotes Leon Trotsky:
“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
I did not understand the quote until I read the book. Keep in mind that the conflict began April 5, 1992 and concluded February 29, 1996. 10,000 were killed, and 56,000 were wounded while waiting for a bullet or a mortar to find them cold, dirty, and hungry. It is easy to draw the parallels to other conflicts with collateral damage. Syria comes to mind.
To reach the only source of water in the city, citizens must cross over one of the bridges spanning the river to reach the brewery. As citizens cross, Serbian militia pick them off… just one here and another there… it’s a psychological tactic. Galloway wrote, “The sniper will fire again, if not here then somewhere else, and if not him then someone else, and it will happen again, like a herd of gazelle going back to the water hole after one of their own is eaten there.”
The reference to the gazelle is visceral and brings the tragedy of collateral damage home. We are all sitting ducks at the mercy (what a strange word choice ‘mercy’) of ______________ (fill in the blank).
Listen to the music; look at the photographs; weep.