The Cellist of Sarajevo follows four people struggling to stay alive in war-torn Sarajevo: the cellist, formerly the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra; Arrow, a sniper with a conscience; Kenan, a father struggling to provide for his family; and Dragan, a man who helped his wife and 18-year-old son escape to Italy before the war started.
This passage, from The Cellist of Sarajevo's first few pages, perfectly illustrates the essence of the novel:
In 1945, an Italian musicologist found four bars of a sonata's bass line in the remnants of the firebombed Dresden Music Library. He believed these notes were the work of the seventeenth-century Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni, and spent the next twelve years reconstructing a larger piece from the charred manuscript fragment. The resulting composition, known as Albinoni's Adagio, bears little resemblance to most of Albinoni's work and is considered fraudulent by most scholars. But even those who doubt its authenticity have difficulty denying the Adagio's beauty.Focusing primarily on a 22-day period during 1992, The Cellist of Sarajevo is profoundly moving. Amid the horror of the Siege of Sarajevo, its protagonists struggle to maintain hope and a semblance of their humanity, realizing that their souls, in addition to their city, are under siege. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a book that will stay with you long after you close its cover.
Nearly half a century later, it's this contradiction that appeals to the cellist. That something could be almost erased from existence in the landscape of a ruined city, and then rebuilt until it is new and worthwhile, gives him hope. A hope that, now, is one of a limited number of things remaining for the besieged citizens of Sarajevo and that, for many, dwindles each day. (xv-xvi)
The author's afterword is particularly interesting. In it, Galloway explains the inspiration for the story and for the characters themselves. He also puts the story in context, giving readers a bit more background about the siege.