Frailty in Sarajevo

028_p502 Salil Tripathi reviews Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project and Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo, in the New Statesman:

Monuments describe a city, and Sarajevo has many: tall buildings pockmarked with shells, including the old office of Oslobo djenje, the city’s newspaper. There are bridges dividing the city, such as the one where a sniper shot down two young women, a Serb and a Bosnian, plunging the city into war, and the Latin Bridge, where Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand. You can see the ski slope where Radovan Karadzic held court, pointing out the sites that he wanted destroyed. And there is the bakery where 22 people who had queued up to buy bread were mown down one morning.

In his earlier fiction, the Bosnian writer Aleksandar Hemon has written movingly about the city’s siege, which lasted over four years and killed more than 10,000 people, even though he could see it only on television, as he was in America when the madness descended. Hemon wanted to hold on to Sarajevo’s integrity, to the seamless city where you would not notice as you moved from the Austro-Hungarian to the Muslim part of town. The city’s lives were in termingled, not compartmentalised, as Karad zic sought.

Describing that lively Sarajevo, Vladimir Brik, the protagonist of The Lazarus Project, says that in his city “everyone could be whatever they claimed they were – each life, however imaginary, could be validated by its rightful, sovereign owner, from the inside”.