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Local view: Deepen connections through One Book, One Community

Imagine living in a city under siege, going about the activities of life with little food, no running water and no expectation of safety as you cross the street. This is the backdrop of “The Cellist of Sarajevo” by Stephen Galloway, which is the 2014 selection for the region’s One Book, One Community read.

“The Cellist of Sarajevo” was inspired by the true story of Vedran Smailovic, who took his cello, donned his tuxedo and played music amidst the rubble of buildings that had been destroyed. It is the story of a city under siege for almost four years, a siege that killed more than 11,000 and wounded another 56,000. But most of all it is the story of four people struggling to make choices and resist giving in to despair in a time of war.

One of the characters is Kenan, whom we meet as he is making a long and dangerous trek to the local brewery to collect water for his family and a cantankerous neighbor. The neighbor refuses to use a container that would be easy for Kenan to carry and gives him no thanks for his efforts; but still he risks his life and collects water for her because it is the right thing to do.

Dragan is on his way to a bakery for bread when he ends up on a street corner afraid to cross because there are snipers randomly shooting people as they walk across the street. On the corner he meets an old friend who is making a dangerous journey to deliver prescription medication to a stranger in need.

Arrow is a young woman, a sniper fighting against the occupation, who is charged with protecting the cellist from those who would kill him. She doesn’t know what he hopes to achieve by playing his music, but she understands that it is important to allow him to finish. She becomes a target herself by making sure he can do so.

The cellist, who is not referred to by name, witnessed a mortar attack that killed 22 of his friends and neighbors standing in line for bread. He plays his instrument on the site of the attack for 22 days to honor their memory. In the process, he offers the people of Sarajevo a few moments each day to reclaim their humanity.

The book’s author will visit Duluth and Cloquet on Tuesday, April 15, to speak about “The Cellist of Sarajevo” as well as his soon-to-be-released novel, “The Confabulist.” Other One Book, One Community events include a photography exhibit of “Women in Black” protestors in the former Yugoslavia, a readers’ theater performance of “The Cellist of Sarajevo,” concerts, lectures, movie screenings and book discussions. A complete list of events can be found on the library’s website,

At its heart, “The Cellist of Sarajevo” is about choices and resilience and human connection. The One Book, One Community program invites you to deepen your connection to your neighbors by reading, exploring and discussing this year’s selection.

Carla Powers is manager of the Duluth Public Library.