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Wine & Book Group Pick for June '08

abstract:The cello is both the most beautiful and sorrowful of stringed instruments. And so, it is only fitting that The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (Knopf, Canada April 2008) is a story of extraordinary beauty and imagination that will sweep you off your feet with its compelling prose. "One day a shell lands in a bread line and kills twenty-two people as the cellist watches from a window in his flat. He vows to sit in the hollow where the mortar fell and play Albinoni’s Adagio once a day for each of the twenty-two victims... " Entice your book group to read this month's Wine & Book selection, The Cellist of Sarajevo, based on the true story of Vedran Smailovic. Listen to the music while you taste the old-world wines from the region for a truly moving discussion and a memorable experience.


April 29, 2008

About the Author

Steven Galloway is the author of Finnie Walsh and Ascension. He teaches creative writing at UBC and SFU, and lives with his wife and two young daughters in New Westminster, British Columbia.

About the Novel

Inspired by this remarkable man and his true story, Galloway has created three additional characters to represent people and their response to war and hate. Kenan, who lives with his wife and two small children. He avoids engaging in the conflict and must go to get water for his family and elderly neighbor - a woman who is unkind, cold, and selfish. Dragan, who lives with his sister and her family - he has managed to send his wife and son away from Sarajevo to safety in Italy and he often thinks about what it would be like to leave Sarajevo and join them. Arrow, a young woman whose real name we do not learn until the last line of the book, who now works as a sniper for the forces within the city. Before the end of the novel, all three will have to decide how to keep the war from stealing their humanity, or to choose instead to do what is right, risking their own survival.

The True Story

At 4 pm on May 27, 1992, Vedran Smailovic - neither a politician nor a soldier - the principal cellist for the Sarajevo Opera, witnessed a bomb explosion that killed 22 people in a bread line. Enraged by what was happening around him and powerless to do anything about it, he used his cello as an instrument of protest, love, and human dignity. For 22 days, one each for the people killed, Smailovic played in the same spot. He played to ruined homes, smoldering fires, scared people hiding in basements. Ultimately, he played for life, for peace, and for the possibility of hope that exists even in the darkest hour. Asked by a journalist whether he was not crazy doing what he was doing, Smailovic replied: “You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello; why do you not ask if they are not crazy for shelling Sarajevo?”

"Celebrated cellist Yo Yo Ma played this piece at the International Cello Festival in Manchester, England, in 1994. “When he had finished, Yo Yo Ma remained bent over his cello. His bow still rested on the strings. No one in the hall moved, not a sound was made for a long, long time. It was as though we had just witnessed that horrifying massacre ourselves. Finally still in silence, Yo Yo slowly straightened in his chair, looked out across the audience, and stretched out his hand toward us. All eyes followed as he beckoned someone to come to the stage, and an indescribable electric shock swept over us as we realised who it was: Vedran Smailovic — the cellist of Sarajevo himself! He rose from his seat and walked down the aisle as Yo Yo came off the stage and headed up the aisle to meet him. With arms flung wide, they met each other in a passionate embrace just inches from my seat.

“The drama was unbelievable, as everyone in the hall leaped to his or her feet in a chaotic emotional frenzy: clapping, weeping, shouting, embracing, and cheering. It was deafening, overwhelming, a tidal wave of emotion. And in the centre of it at stood these two men, still hugging, both crying freely. Yo Yo Ma, the suave, elegant prince of classical music worldwide, flawless in appearance and performance. And Vedran Smailovic, who had just escaped from Sarajevo, dressed in a stained and tattered leather motorcycle suit with fringe on the arms. His wild long hair and huge moustache framed a face that looked old beyond his years, creased with pain and soaked with so many tears.”—Swati Chopra,

Wines From The Old World

Serbia is a large producer of both red and white wines and is at its best when producing red wines from the Prokupac grape. The wines are well balanced and pleasantly colored and are often used in blends with Pinot Noir and Gamay.

Rubin Wine from Serbia is a cooperative winery that has gone private. Under the former Soviet Union wineries were collectives. Browse this wine blog for a look at wineries and varietals available here.

Previous Book & Wine Picks

  • March Cellophane set in the Peruvian Rainforest
  • January Eat, Pray, Love set in New York, Italy and India
  • November Madonna:Like an Icon,
  • October Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, set in New England
  • August On Chesil Beach, set in England
  • July The Last Chinese Chef, set in Shanghai
  • June The Birth House, set in Nova Scotia
  • May Water for Elephants, set in Depression-era America
  • March-April Snowflower and the Secret Fan, set in China
  • February Cloudstreet, set in Perth, Australia
  • January The Good German, set in Berlin
  • December The Historian, set in Eastern Europe
  • November One Good Turn, set in Edinburgh
  • September Lost in the Forest, set in Napa Valley
  • August The Hummingbird's Daughter, set in Mexico
  • July The Devil Wears Prada, set in NYC
  • June Woolf in Ceylon, set in Ceylon
  • May Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living, Australia
  • April The Mermaid Chair, set in South Carolina
  • March Memoirs of a Geisha, set in Japan
  • February Get a Life, set in South Africa
  • January In the Shadow of the Wind, set in Barcelona
  • December Pride and Prejudice, set in England
  • November Beyond Measure, set in Renaissance Italy
  • October Breakfast at Tiffany's, set in New York


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