This is a novel so well-written and thought-provoking that not only did I read it in one sitting, but the very next night I read it again. I would encourage everyone to read the excerpt available via the Search-Inside feature, for it introduces the 28-year-old female sniper who goes by the pseudonym Arrow "so that the person who fought and killed could someday be put away." So riveting is her thinking and so powerful the last sentence of the novel that her story will stay vividly with me for a lifetime.
Other reviews, including the excellent one from the Washington Post (click on "See all editorial reviews"), have rightly focused on the characters around which the novel is centered. But also compelling is the plight of the city itself. Although Sarajevo became familiar to me during the Olympic games, one does not need to have seen the pre-war city to shudder at what happened to it. As one of the characters takes circuitous routes to get to his work and food, he recalls its past as he's faced with its present: "Every day," he muses, "the Sarajevo he thinks he remembers slips away from him a little at a time, like water cupped in the palms of his hands, and when it's gone, he wonders what will be left. He isn't sure what it will be like to live without remembering how life used to be, what it was like to live in a beautiful city." Or, I thought, what it would be like to try to cope with the destruction of wherever one lives, whatever the cause. In more ways than one, the author of "The Kite Runner" was absolutely correct when he called "The Cellist of Sarajevo" a "universal story."
NOTE: When I went online to find out more about Vedran Smailovic, the man who did indeed play for 22 days at the site where 22 people had been killed in Sarajevo, I discovered a fascinating article in the London Times which details at length the cellist's extreme displeasure at finding his photograph on the original dust jacket of this book and his privacy thus invaded. The article, which also includes author Steven Galloway's reaction to Smailovic's dismay at being used as a character in a work of fiction, is most easily accessed by going to the external links under the entry for Smailovic in Wikipedia.
NOTE: For those who, after reading this novel, are interested in learning more about life during the siege of Sarajevo, see my note about Scott Simon's Pretty Birds: A Novel in comment #6. Additionally, Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo Revised Edition provides a 13-year-old girl's poignant non-fiction account. For those wondering about other books the author of "The Cellist..." has written, yet another memorable read awaits in his Ascension: A Novel.