The cat I never named A true story of love, war, and survival

Amra Sabic-El-Rayess

Book - 2020

In Bihac, Bosnia, in 1992, sixteen-year-old Amra and her family face starvation and the threat of brutal ethnic violence as Serbs and Bosnians clash, while a stray cat, Maci, provides solace.

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

1 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 949.703/Sabic-El-Rayess Checked In
  • Map of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Region
  • 1992
  • 1993: Summer
  • 1993-1994: Winter
  • 1994: Summer
  • 1994: Autumn
  • 1995: Spring
  • 1995: Summer
  • 1998.
Review by Booklist Review

This exceptional memoir details how one Muslim teen experienced the Bosnian War. It begins in 1992 when Amra was a top student in Bihać, Bosnia, an integrated city where Muslims, Serbs, and Croats lived together peacefully. Two days after her 16th birthday, Amra arrived at school to find her classroom half-empty; the Serbs had fled overnight ahead of the attack they knew was coming. While running to retrieve her younger brother, Amra turned back for the stray cat that followed her to school and stepped out of the path of a sniper. Maci, the cat, saved her life. The siege of Bihać lasted for four years, and Amra's family suffered a great deal. They also survived harrowing near misses, which she credited to their feline guardian angel. The author has an extraordinary ability to recreate both the beauty and brutality of these years: the terror and boredom of living in a crowded basement while bombs fell outside, the sweetness of falling in love, the dread of finding her name on a list of Muslims designated for the rape camps. At great risk, schools reopened sporadically, allowing Amra to graduate. Readers will notice parallels to their pandemic experiences, and an author's note points out the current fear of immigrants and racial groups which, in her adolescence, led to genocide.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In her memoir about the transformative power of love, connection, and education, Sabic-El-Rayess revisits her life during the Bosnian civil war beginning shortly after her 16th birthday in 1992, and the ethnic cleansing of Muslims that she, her brother, and her parents survived at the hands of Serbs. Sabic-El-Rayess communicates the horrors of war--violence, starvation, and death--with frank detail. She also describes the community-building and connections borne amid the suffering, including the creation of a community garden and a makeshift school that allowed children a sense of normalcy and an opportunity to continue learning despite bombs and constant threats to lives. Central to Sabic-El-Rayess's story is the titular "cat never named," a stray who showed her reluctant family unconditional love, indirectly saving their lives multiple times. At once a story of an individual surviving horrifying circumstances and an unflinching exploration of the political and societal forces that breed ethnic hate and discrimination, Sabic-El-Rayess's memoir is as timely as it is effective. Ages 12--up. Agents: Rob McQuilkin and Jason Anthony, Massie and McQuilkin. (Sept.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up--Sabic-El-Rayess, a Bosnian Muslim teenage girl, was in danger when the Bosnian War (1992--95) made its way to her home city of Biha . Her memoir begins in 1992; the first chapter details her homecoming from Belgrade, Serbia. Her parents, who fiercely believed in the power of education, had sent their daughter away for school. Upon returning to Biha , Sabic-El-Rayess found that things had quickly changed. School was suspended, her Serbian friends disowned her before moving away, and bombings became a regular occurrence. Food was in short supply, and family and friends died. Yet there was one small constant source of hope: an ever-present cat that saved her family's life several times over the six years chronicled in the text. Moving chronologically, the climactic events follow the time line of the war. Sabic-El-Rayess's experience spotlights a significant historical event that may be unfamiliar to the target audience. She comprehensively addresses politics, genocide, rape camps, self-preservation, and, through it all, still being a teenager. Her prose balances verve and gentleness as she discusses the horrors of war alongside moments of levity, be it the cat or a love interest. The narrative is an innately human experience set against a backdrop of destruction and hatred. Her family's survival will pull readers into an emotional tale. VERDICT A hopeful story of a girl's survival and ultimate success. A must-read nonfiction addition to all libraries.--Alicia Abdul, Albany H.S., NY

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review

This suspenseful memoir, set between 1992 and 1998, opens just before the author's northwestern Bosnian town of Biha is changed by war. Serbians (who've had warning) evacuate overnight, schools and businesses abruptly close, and the town's remaining Muslim population is under siege by Serbian soldiers. Amidst this turmoil, a stray calico cat follows sixteen-year-old Amra home. Amra calls the stray Maci, the Bosnian word for cat, and the cat comforts and even, in a sense, protects Amra: for instance, because she chases Maci on the way home from school, Amra avoids a sniper attack. Amra comes to believe the cat is a guardian angel or benevolent spirit. She details her family's gradual decline, as they endure poverty and malnutrition under siege for three years, and finally her own move to the U.S. on an academic scholarship. Though she never shies away from difficult topics such as the threat of rape, feeling forgotten by the international community, or post-war corruption, she always brings the story back to Maci, a metaphor for love that "never dies" and "withstands distance and time." This fast-paced, touching memoir reminds readers of the significance of the Balkan ethnic war and places it into a larger conversation about the ways in which ethnically and religiously diverse societies are under threat from extremism and bigotry. An author's note and resource list encourage further engagement. Julie Hakim Azzam January/February 2021 p.136(c) Copyright 2021. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Now a professor in the U.S., Sabic-El-Rayess was 16 when the Serbian siege on her city of Bihać, Bosnia, began in 1992. Overnight, her life changed: She went from being a typical teenager, excited about her new volleyball shoes and seven-tiered birthday cake, to fleeing bullets. It felt as if overnight Sabic-El-Rayess went from attending her multiethnic STEM school to learning that the Serbs in her life, including her best friend and her favorite teacher, had fled; having received advance warning, they left Muslims, like her family, and Catholics behind to endure the impending siege. Sabic-El-Rayess' innocence was soon swept away by the realities of war: She witnessed homes being blown up, bombs killing her childhood friends, and deprivation turning people against each other. Sabic-El-Rayess found unexpected solace in adopting Maci ("cat" in Bosnian), a stray calico who followed a Muslim refugee family into town. Maci quickly became a source of comfort for the family, who even credited her with saving their lives. The story boldly tackles the rawness of human emotion in times of severe distress, putting on full display the ways war brings out both the best and worst in people. Sabic-El-Rayess' viewpoint as an adolescent girl juxtaposes her dreams of the future against fears of losing loved ones, rape camps, and starvation. The crude realities of war are animated by the combination of both graphic scenes of violence and intimate displays of affection and warmth. Unforgettable. (additional information, author's note, resources) (Memoir. 14-18) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.