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Cellist Plays During Shelling and Snipers

Steven Galloway's 2008 novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo, tells the following fictional story about the real cellist Vedren Smajlovic. In the novel, Smajlović, the lead cellist in the Sarajevo opera, put on his formal black tails and sat down on a fire-scorched chair in a bomb crater and began to play. The crater was outside a bakery in his neighborhood where twenty-two people waiting in line for bread had been killed the previous day. During the siege of Sarajevo in the early 90s, more than ten thousand people were killed.

The citizens lived in constant fear of shelling and snipers while struggling each day to find food and water. Smajlović lived near one of the few working bakeries where a long line of people had gathered when a shell exploded. He rushed to the scene and was overcome with grief at the carnage.

For the next twenty-two days, one for each victim of the bombing, he decided to challenge the ugliness of war with his only weapon— beauty. He became known as the "Cellist of Sarajevo." After that, Smajlović continued to unleash the beauty of his music in graveyards, at funerals, in the rubble of buildings, and in the sniper-infested streets. Although completely vulnerable, he was never shot. It was as if the beauty of his presence repelled the violence of war. His music created an oasis amid the horror. It offered hope to the people of Sarajevo and a vision of beauty to the soldiers who were destroying the city.

In the novel, a reporter asked him if he was crazy for playing in a war zone. Smajlović replied, "Why do you not ask if they are crazy for bombing Sarajevo?"

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