The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return

( 7 )

Overview

A young survivor of the Bosnian War returns to his homeland to confront the people who betrayed his family

At age eleven, Kenan Trebincevic was a happy, karate-loving kid living with his family in the quiet Eastern European town of Brcko. Then, in the spring of 1992, war broke out and his friends, neighbors and teammates all turned on him. Pero - Kenan's beloved karate coach - showed up at his door with an AK-47 - screaming: "You have one hour to leave or be killed!" Kenan’s ...

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The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return

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Overview

A young survivor of the Bosnian War returns to his homeland to confront the people who betrayed his family

At age eleven, Kenan Trebincevic was a happy, karate-loving kid living with his family in the quiet Eastern European town of Brcko. Then, in the spring of 1992, war broke out and his friends, neighbors and teammates all turned on him. Pero - Kenan's beloved karate coach - showed up at his door with an AK-47 - screaming: "You have one hour to leave or be killed!" Kenan’s only crime: he was Muslim. This poignant, searing memoir chronicles Kenan’s miraculous escape from the brutal ethnic cleansing campaign that swept the former Yugoslavia. After two decades in the United States, Kenan honors his father’s wish to visit their homeland, making a list of what he wants to do there. Kenan decides to confront the former next door neighbor who stole from his mother, see the concentration camp where his Dad and brother were imprisoned and stand on the grave of his first betrayer to make sure he’s really dead. Back in the land of his birth, Kenan finds something more powerful—and shocking—than revenge.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/16/2013
Nearly 20 years after fleeing their war-ravaged country with his parents and older brother (“the last Muslim family in town”), Trebincevic returned to his hometown of Brcko, Bosnia with vengeance in his heart, yet he found there a different kind of reckoning. In this astute account, co-authored with Shapiro (Five Men Who Broke My Heart), is readably organized and evenhanded. Trebincevic alternates narrating his admittedly reluctant journey back to Bosnia with his father, now in his 70s, and brother, Eldin, in July 2011, with his reconstruction of the outbreak of war in March 1992—when the author was 11, Bosnia-Herzegovina had declared its independence from Yugoslavia, and the well-armed Serbs launched a bloody campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the majority Muslims in the country. Trebincevic and his family were blindsided by the violence, since the diverse ethnic groups had lived in harmony for decades, yet seemingly overnight had to contend with neighbors and teachers hurling ethnic slurs. The family eventually escaped to Connecticut, yet the bonds of loyalty and treachery were so complex and scarring that even after having made his career as a successful physical therapist in Queens, N.Y., Trebincevic, now 30, wrote out a list of scores to settle when he agreed to accompany his father and brother back to their hometown. The great instruction of this important work is the author’s moral transformation that helped him replace hate with grace, if not forgiveness. (Mar)
Library Journal
04/01/2014
Yugoslavia's descent into war and genocide more than two decades ago has been the subject of outstanding scholarship, journalism, and biography. Trebincević's account contributes to this literature in an unusual way. The author blends his childhood experience of Bosnia's tragedy with a return to his original home in Brcko after nearly 20 years in the United States. The titular list is of goals the author intends to accomplish. They include seeking out surviving friends and relatives as well as confronting Serbs guilty of crimes against Trebincević's defenseless Muslim family. The great irony of the narrative consists in the list's gradual transformation into an enumeration of Serbs who rendered critical help, enabling the family's survival and flight. Far from being a tale of exoneration, the author's story is one that reveals the power and limitations of memory, the poignant complexity of human relations in battle, and the catharsis of understanding past betrayal and sacrifice. VERDICT Combining themes of war, childhood, and return, this memoir is for readers interested in the human drama of brutal conflicts and social dislocation. Knowledge of Balkan history is not necessary.—Zachary Irwin, Behrend Coll., Penn State Erie
Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-14
With the assistance of Shapiro (Journalism/The New School; Unhooked: How to Quit Anything, 2012, etc.), Trebincevic returns to the scene of childhood trauma during the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. The author fled the bloody civil war in his native Bosnia in 1993 with his father, mother and older brother, Eldin, and settled in Connecticut. Just 11 years old when the war broke out, the author observed the sudden hostility of the Serbs toward him and his family, native Muslims, as ethnic tensions flared in their diverse town of Brcko and the Muslims were persecuted in the name of Serbian supremacy. His revered karate coach turned a cold shoulder to him, the family's bank account was depleted, his favorite teacher spat at him on the street ("Everything he'd ever taught me about brotherhood and unity was a lie"), the shopkeepers taunted them, and, most haunting for the boy who could not protect his mother, their neighbor, Petra, gradually appropriated their furnishings and clothes since, as she assured his mother, "You won't be needing that carpet." When the author's father, now in his 70s, a widower since his wife died of cancer, resolved to return to Bosnia in 2011 for a visit, the author and his brother had to swallow their pride and go with him, with enormous trepidation. At 30, the author was "startled by the intensity of [his] fury" when imagining how he would return to his tormentors. Indeed, he drew up a list of grievances to attend to during his visit, including confronting Serb classmates and friends who had turned the family in, especially Petra; peeing on the karate instructor's grave; and visiting the concentration camp where his father and brother were imprisoned. Yet immersion in his homeland and being bombarded by the new reality challenged his vendetta in surprising ways. An engaging memoir of war trauma and the redemption to be found in confronting it.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143124573
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 2/25/2014
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 93,797
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenan Trebincevic

Kenan Trebincevic immigrated to America in 1993 and became a citizen in 2001. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and Op-Ed page, the Wall Street Journal, Salon, and The Best American Travel Writing 2012 and on American Public Radio and NPR. 

Susan Shapiro teaches journalism at New York University and the New School. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Nation.  She is the author of eight books, including the memoir Five Men Who Broke My Heart, which is currently optioned for film.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2014

    An unbelievable story written so well - He is the epitome of &qu

    An unbelievable story written so well - He is the epitome of "The American Dream"  Coming to America penniless, homeless and not speaking the language to graduating college, becoming a successful physical therapist and now a published author who is proud of his heritage as well as his American citizenship - amazing!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2014

    Love the book. It made me laugh, cry, angry. Highly recommended!

    Love the book. It made me laugh, cry, angry. Highly recommended!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 6, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    I highly recommend this book. It is an enthralliing short story

    I highly recommend this book. It is an enthralliing short story about the terrible and dramat5ic events which engulfed Bosnia and the Bosniaks a little more than 20 years ago, when their neighbors, the Serbs, started an onslaught against them, almost an internal Holocaust. The story is very well told by a young man who was only 11 years old when the attacks began. Fortunately, he and his family were able to escape ultimately to America. The Bosnia List is the result of a voyage back to Bosnia 20 years after, and the people and feelings he encounters. It is extraordinarily well written and a quick but engrossing read. (This is my first published review, so obviously I mean it sincerely, but seem to be having technical difficulties getting it done, so I apologize for any errors, which if they exist, are all my own.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2014

    This book is authentic and describes well similar experiences of

    This book is authentic and describes well similar experiences of many Boniaks that went through the strugle of serbo fashist regim in Brcko.
    Internal emotional battle of going back for the first time is exceptional and very well written. 
    Great job Kenan!
    We are very proud of you and your family. You made our similar experiences eternal ...  THANK YOU!  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2014

    This is an unbelievable story, written from the heart. A full ci

    This is an unbelievable story, written from the heart. A full circle.  I am from Bosnia too (though from another part), and am proud to share my heritage and my new home in the States with the people like Kenan! The amazing piece on forgiveness and sense of a "let go" (if one can come to the "let go" there) ...Kenan, you brought back memories, you made me cringe, cry, cheer, laugh and most of all, you made me remember and not forget. You reminded me to not forget the values that you yourself stand for! Thank you!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2014

    Great book. Highly recommended!

    Great book. Highly recommended!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2014

    Raw. Brave. Integrity. Pain. Innocence. Betrayal. Anger. Underst

    Raw. Brave. Integrity. Pain. Innocence. Betrayal. Anger. Understanding. Peace. Family. Love. Loyalty. Winner.

    These are just a few words that describe what I thought and felt as I was reading Mr. Trebincevic’s book. As someone who grew up in Bosnia during the war years at the same age as Mr. Trebincevic, as well as someone who is a former refugee living in the US of A, I related to this book on levels that cannot be explained. There were certain scenes or feelings that Mr. Trebincevic would describe and I would think “it’s as if he was there when I experienced/felt this too”. The book is written in such a way that one chapter would be about his past and the next one would be about his present. Somehow, Mr. Trebincevic was able to write the chapters about his past through the eyes of an 11-12 year old boy and put himself right back to that dark time in his hometown, as if he was still there. This alone took a great deal of guts and inner strength to go there again. And yet, in the very next chapter, he would write about his present through the eyes of a 30-something year old man that he is today. That was unbelievable for me as a reader. He asked the same questions that a 12-year-old boy would ask without offering any answers until you get to the part where he’s an adult. He found his answers only as an adult and it’s as if you, the reader, go through the discovery in search of answers right along with him.
    He also opened up the doors for discussions in my own family about things that have not been discussed in a very long time. Once I started telling my parents about the book, they touched on some experiences they had that I never knew about. It made me realize that my parents, like the rest of us, have a “Bosnia list” too and this book made it possible to start finding out what their list might look like.
    I would not say that the book is about forgiveness. “Forgiveness” is a very strong, powerful word for the people who come from our world, but what I realized is that Mr. Trebincevic found his peace. It may or it may not work for other people, but this is his peace. And THAT is what makes Mr. Trebincevic a winner at the end of this story. So I would say it’s a book about finding your peace after the war.
    Thank you Kenan.
    Selena S., Esq.

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