The Siege of Sarajevo is a very real event in modern history, lasting for just under four years, April 1992 to the end of February 1996. Sarajevo was at that time a city of some half a million people and it is estimated that around ten thousand were died due to the siege and a further fifty-six thousand wounded. Ten thousand homes were completely destroyed and an incredible hundred thousand suffered damage.
Steven Galloway has based this very moving and harrowing novel on an event that actually happened during the siege when mortar shells struck people queuing to buy bread. Many people were injured and twenty two people died. A well known local cellist played the same piece of music at the site of this atrocity for twenty two consecutive days following the event in remembrance of those that died.
Although the cellist was the inspiration for the novel none of the protagonists’ characters are based on real people but all from the author’s imagination.
The siege is made horribly realistic for the reader by the protagonists as they live through The Siege of Sarajevo, firstly the Cellist, then a young female counter sniper chosen to protect him who hides her real identity behind a pseudonym Arrow. Kenan, looking old but not yet forty, struggles to keep his wife and three young children supplied with water by traversing the dangerous city streets for supplies every few days. Then there is Dragan who has worked at the city bakery for nearly forty years and were it not for the war would probably be contemplating retirement. Having managed to get his wife and son out of the country before the war started, he now lives unhappily with a sister and her family the bread he provides making him indispensable.
I now feel I have thanks to this powerful novel a better understanding of exactly what the inhabitants of Sarajevo had to endure during this conflict.