‘The Cellist of Sarajevo’ chosen for 2011-12 First-Year Reading Program

A tale of bravery in war-torn Bosnia

The bravery of a lone cellist who faced down snipers to play in the streets of war-torn Bosnia as an honor to the dead will be the tale incoming students read before they begin classes this fall at Washington University in St. Louis.

All new students are required to read Steven Galloway’s haunting story The Cellist of Sarajevo for the First-Year Reading Program, says Alicia Schnell, project coordinator in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Students.

“The book gives vivid snapshots of the human side of war,” Schnell says. “It’s pretty raw, pretty graphic.”

The book focuses on the war in the former Yugoslavia that exploded in ethnic violence in the early and mid-1990s. The committee that selected the book hopes that students will be able to relate to the tale as it has parallels to current world events, Schnell says.

All incoming students will be sent a copy of The Cellist of Sarajevo soon so that they may read it during the summer. During orientation, incoming students will participate in faculty-led discussions about the book, and programs will be planned during the academic year based on its themes.

Each group will consist of about 15 students and one faculty facilitator. Faculty from a variety of disciplines participate in the discussions outside of regular classes.

“The faculty really enjoy it. It’s neat for them to get to know the students in an intimate setting,” Schnell says.

At the same time, the students get to know the faculty outside the classroom, she says.

In addition, various events are scheduled around the novel. The author will speak for the Assembly Series at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12, in College Hall in South 40 House.

Stan Braude, PhD, lecturer in biology in Arts & Sciences, will offer for the second time a 1-credit class on the novel and other readings on related topics. And Schnell says her office plans to arrange for several of the Bosnian housekeepers who work on campus to share their first-hand accounts of the war with students.

Just as last year, students also will have the opportunity to enter a contest to win a lunch with Galloway. Previous entries have ranged from essays to music to artwork based on the novel’s themes.

“In the past, the students have really enjoyed it,” Schnell says.

The annual program is designed to reach freshmen before they arrive on campus to help them focus on skills they will continue to cultivate during their college careers.

Formerly known as the Freshman Reading Program, the effort began in 2003 to provide a common intellectual experience for incoming students, introduce them to a spirit of debate and inquiry, and provide an opportunity for increased student-faculty interaction in and out of the classroom.

Last year’s selection was The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.

For more information, visit fyrp.wustl.edu.