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

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

by Kenan Trebincevic, Susan Shapiro


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143124573
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/25/2014
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 94,404
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

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.

Table of Contents

The Bosnia List xi

Prologue: Marshal Tito in Astoria, 2009 1

Chapter 1 An Indelible Lesson in Self-Defense, 1991 15

Chapter 2 Pressure Cooker, 2011 48

Chapter 3 The Last Muslim Family in Brcko, 1992 74

Chapter 4 The Reckoning, 2011 97

Chapter 5 Daca and Her Uzi, 1992 111

Chapter 6 Days of Resurrection, 2011 130

Chapter 7 My Grandpa Murat's Karma, 1992 164

Chapter 8 Their Side of Town, 2011 178

Chapter 9 An Argument with My Mother, 1995 206

Chapter 10 Finding Amela, 2011 232

Chapter 11 My Father's Loss, 2001 251

Chapter 12 Crossing Enemy Lines, 2011 267

Postscript: In Dreams Begins Forgiveness, 2012 293

The New Bosnia List 297

Acknowledgments 299

Glossary of Names, Places, and Terms 301

Recommended Books 309

Index 311

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher


“The great instruction of this important work is the author’s moral transformation that helped him replace hate with grace, if not forgiveness.”
Publishers Weekly

“A mesmerizing tale of survival and healing.”

“An engaging memoir of war trauma and the redemption to be found in confronting it.”

“A young New Yorker haunted by searing memories goes on a most unusual overseas vacation—not to sightsee or party but to confront the ordinary men and women who tore his family’s lives apart. His journey takes us into a time of mesmerizing violence and betrayal when neighbors set upon each other as though it were the 1940s all over again—a world of twisted emotions and baffling brutality lying just below the surface of his contemporary Europe. THE BOSNIA LIST is powerful, the flashbacks riveting.”  
—Tom Reiss, bestselling author of The Black Count and The Orientalist

“With understated elegance and in highly personal pointillist dots, Kenan Trebincevic illuminates how the Bosnian tragedy blighted, and continues to blight, the lives of countless people both in his homeland and in its far-flung diaspora. This important and original work reminds us, in ways large and small, of the long half-life of an atrocity.”
—David Margolick, bestselling author of Elizabeth and Hazel and Strange Fruit

“Kenan Trebincevic fights against the power of memory and his own rage in this remembrance of a time that seems like a medieval anachronism yet was barely a decade ago. This is a searing memoir of war and peace from a young man who sees through ancient rhetoric with stunning clarity, both in his home country and his adopted United States. Read this book for its impassioned honesty.”
—Tom Zoellner, bestselling author of A Safeway in Arizona

“I’m so blown away by this beautiful book.  For the first time, a young Bosnian tells a riveting coming-of-age story about the brutal Balkan war when parents disappeared into concentration camps, teachers turned on students and children betrayed children.
Two decades later, now an American citizen, Kenan returns to his homeland to confront the guilty and honor the dead in this passionate, nuanced account of a man who refuses to forget.”
—Julia Lieblich, author of Sisters: Lives of Devotion and Defiance

“Kenan Trebincevic’s story of survival and remembrance is moving, well-told, and important for all of us to hear. He makes a powerful case for courage and human decency as the only way through the divisive madness of modern life.”
—Ian Frazier, bestselling author of Travels in Siberia and Great Plains

“THE BOSNIA LIST tells a fascinating story of a harrowing and heart-rending journey. It’s a graceful, taut memoir of family, friends and faith: a moving recollection of souls being torn asunder and slowly beginning to heal.”
—Laurence Bergreen, bestselling author of Columbus: The Four Journeys

“THE BOSNIA LIST was difficult to finish because it touched me so deeply. I’ve wondered how another Bosniak could describe their tragedy and traumas, watching the transformation of former friends and neighbors becoming animals. Most powerful was how Kenan’s mother’s voice echoed in his head and became his morality, preventing him from getting revenge. She’s one of the strongest, best described female characters in Bosnian literature. And I was rooting for Kenan’s father not to succumb to evil and stay a good man. That might be why his family survived. That shows us all: if we stay good, we have a chance.”
—Dr. Esad Boskailo, Bosnian war survivor and co-author of Wounded I Am More Awake

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The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love the book. It made me laugh, cry, angry. Highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Facing our demons and especially those imposed by others is never a desirable task, but has the potential to prove cathartic.  The author has created a very powerful book taking the reader through his extraordinary journey back to Bosnia which served as the scene for rampant discrimination, ethnic cleansing, forced emigration, and other horrors no one should be made to experience and especially a pre-teen.  There are too many notable parts of the book to mention, but one which is especially notable is the family visit back to a concentration camp in which two of them were interred.  Upon returning the building was repainted and repurposed with just a small plaque to serve as the only indication of the atrocities.  It served as a notable juxtaposition depicting a country that still needs to recognize and face its past injustices in contrast to the author who will always be a part of his former homeland Bosnia, but very clearly through the strength of his character made a notable transformation choosing not to be defined by its intolerance.  A very impressive read which leaves a lasting impression after the last page is turned.  
StemenJ More than 1 year ago
A very engrossing story in itself that also taught me a great deal about what happened to so many two decades ago in Bosnia. As a resident of Utica, NY, a community with about 10,000 Bosnian residents, it helped me to understand their experiences. I found the book to be heartfelt and very honest--Mr. Trebincevic is not afraid to admit of the grudges he held--the reader is rewarded by learning how he is able to cast them aside and, thorough a return visit to his homeland, come to terms with what happened.
dondavide More than 1 year ago
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.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book. Highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
LZam150 More than 1 year ago
I had trouble putting this book down! Though it details horrific, barbaric, tragic events, it does so in a brilliant way, allowing me to simultaneously feel for the young boy trying to survive the war and the young man struggling to understand this same war. The writers have done an enormous job making accessible a very complicated war and political situation. I applaud their efforts and highly recommend this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago