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

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Annotation: The stunning memoir of a Muslim teen struggling to survive in the midst of the Bosnian genocide--and the stray cat who protected her family through it all.
Genre: Biographies
Catalog Number: #216728
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Copyright Date: 2020
Edition Date: 2020
Pages: 370 p.
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 1-547-60453-0 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-8074-0
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-547-60453-1 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-8074-2
Dewey: 921
LCCN: 2020021991
Dimensions: 23 cm.
Language: English
Reviews:
Horn Book
This suspenseful memoir, set between 1992 and 1998, opens just before the author's northwestern Bosnian town of Bihac; 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.
Kirkus Reviews
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)
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
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)
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* This exceptional memoir details how one Muslim teen experienced the Bosnian War. It begins in 1992 when Amra was a top student in Biha?, 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 Biha? 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.
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
Starred Review ALA Booklist (10/1/20)
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
Horn Book
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references (p. 369-370).
Word Count: 108,434
Reading Level: 5.5
Interest Level: 7-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 5.5 / points: 17.0 / quiz: 511620 / grade: Upper Grades

The stunning memoir of a Muslim teen struggling to survive in the midst of the Bosnian genocide--and the stray cat who protected her family through it all. Six Starred Reviews A YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist A Capitol Choices Remarkable Book A Mighty Girl Best Book A Malala Fund Favorite Book Selection In 1992, Amra was a teen in Bihac, Bosnia, when her best friend said they couldn't speak anymore. Her friend didn't say why, but Amra knew the reason: Amra was Muslim. It was the first sign her world was changing. Then Muslim refugees from other Bosnian cities started arriving, fleeing Serbian persecution. When the tanks rolled into Bihac, bringing her own city under seige, Amra's happy life in her peaceful city vanished. But there is light even in the darkest of times, and she discovered that light in the warm, bonfire eyes of a stray cat. The little calico had followed the refugees into the city and lost her own family. At first, Amra doesn't want to bother with a stray; her family doesn't have the money to keep a pet. But with gentle charm this kitty finds her way into everyone's heart, and after a few near miracles when she seems to save the family, how could they turn her away? Here is the stunning true story of a teen who, even in the brutality of war, never wavered in her determination to obtain an education, maintain friendships, and even find a first love--and the cat who gave comfort, hope, and maybe even served as the family's guardian spirit.


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