When an author nails a subtle concept and then distills it into a few sparkling lines, adding humour as a bonus, the moment is magic.
While reading Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo I enjoyed the passage below from pages 82 and 83. Galloway’s book describes life in Sarajevo during the troubles suffered after the fall of the Tito regime in the former Yugoslavia. Sarajevo is in a bowl surrounded by mountains from which snipers and artillery randomly attack its besieged citizens who only walk through the streets if they must – to collect water or perform brave, charitable works in a city whose services and institutions have broken down.
Dragan, in his sixties, is one of the few characters in Galloway’s novel still holding a job. A baker, he gets paid in bread. Dragan is waiting in a small crowd for the “right” time to cross a bridge over Sarajevo’s Miljaca River so that he can get to work. A sniper has just fired on a young couple who were crossing the bridge. Fortunately, he or she missed. He meets Emina, a friend of his wife’s, who is bringing long-expired blood thinner medication that belonged to her long-expired mother to some stranger that the radio announced was in need. While they carefully talk, Dragan remembers an exchange between Emina, her mother and Emina’s husband, Jovan that happened during a visit about six years ago:
Dragan had met Emina’s mother once, a year before she died. She looked a lot like Emina, but her sense of humour ran darker than her daughter’s. It was apparent she didn’t think much of Jovan, either. When he tried to steer the conversation toward politics, as he always did, she threw her hands up in the air. “You and your politics. Nothing good will happen because of politics.”
“Nothing good will happen without politics,” Jovan replied, shaking his head.
“Which one of them,” Emina said, “do you suppose is the optimist in the family?”
Dragan and his wife laughed, but the question perplexed him, and he wasn’t sure that Emina was joking.