Beauty Amid Pain
Haunting and hopeful.
The bombing one of the last working bakeries in the city of Sarajevo might have been remembered as just one more senseless act of violence at the height of a terrible ethnic war, if not for the venerable tribute of a lone cellist. The day following the explosion he donned a tuxedo, carried a chair to the crater, and played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor—a moving and unfinished piece. He came at the same time and repeated this performance for twenty-two consecutive days.
This story is about a horrendous true incident of the Bosnian war, as experienced through the eyes of a fictional young boy named Drasko. The author does a tactful-yet-impactful job of humanizing a flashpoint in history, giving it more meaningful weight and depth, whilst highlighting a heroic act of dignity. I’ll admit to being a bit hesitant at first about how my 7 and 8 year old might handle something this heavy, but I needn’t have worried. The audio narration held their rapt attention, and provided opportunities for us to discuss difficult questions.
The CD included in a sleeve at the back of the book contains 6 tracks, which include audio of the author narrating the book (one version with page-turning prompts and one without), a reading of the historical note and brief biography, a piano/cello/vocal composition called “The Streets of Sarajevo,” an interview conversation with the author, and the mournful cello piece referenced in the book--performed by Vedran Smailovic—“The Cellist of Sarajevo” himself.
It’s rare to find a children’s book that’s so completely a work of art—but that’s exactly what John McCutcheon and Kristy Caldwell have partnered to bring us. An artistic experience that is visual, musical, and empathic—creating a lyrical and emotional resonance. This book is a treasure.