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The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival



by
Amra Sabic-El-Rayess ,Laura L. Sullivan

Edition
Hardcover edition
Publisher
Bloomsbury Publishing
Imprint
Bloomsbury USA
ISBN
9781547604531

Awards and Honors
2021 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist
POTENTIALLY SENSITIVE AREAS
Violence: Mild Violence , Violence: Genocide , Discrimination: Religious , Sexual Content: Sexual Harassment
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Amra was a teen in Bihac, Bosnia, when her friend said they couldn’t speak anymore because Amra was Muslim. Then refugees from other cities started arriving, fleeing Serbian persecution. When Serbian tanks rolled into Bihac, the life she knew disappeared—right as a stray cat followed her home. Her family didn’t have the money to keep a pet, but after the cat seemed to save her brother, how could they turn it away? Saving a life one time could be a coincidence, but then it happened again—and Amra and her family wondered just what this cat was.

This is the story of a teen who, even in the brutality of war, never wavered in her determination to obtain education, maintain friendships, and even find a first love—and the cat that provided comfort, and maybe even served as a guardian spirit, in the darkest of times.

POTENTIALLY SENSITIVE AREAS
Violence: Mild Violence , Violence: Genocide , Discrimination: Religious , Sexual Content: Sexual Harassment

Details

Format

Print

Page Count

352

Trim Size

9" x 6"

Dewey

B

AR

5.5: points 17

Genre

Nonfic

Scholastic Reading Counts

0

JLG Release

Oct 2020

Book Genres

Memoir

Topics

Yugoslav War (1991–1995). Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ethnic relations. Family life. Cats. Siege of Bihac, 1992–1995. History of Yugoslavia, 1992–2003. Islam. Bosnian genocide.


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Praise & Reviews

Horn Book

This suspenseful memoir, set between 1992 and 1998, opens just before the author’s northwestern Bosnian town of Bihać 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 her eventual 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

School Library Journal

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 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Praise & Reviews

Horn Book

This suspenseful memoir, set between 1992 and 1998, opens just before the author’s northwestern Bosnian town of Bihać 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 her eventual 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

School Library Journal

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 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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