The Cat I Never Named Interview with Amra Sabic-El-Rayes

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

September 29, 2020
kat simons
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The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival

"It’s 1992, and Bihac is a multicultural city with Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. But one morning, a sixteen-year-old girl sits down in her first class of the school day to discover that, as if vanished by a supernatural force, half of her friends have disappeared overnight. The missing students are Serbs, and they, along with their families, have strategically departed this once-diverse city. Their clandestine exit will soon prove the harbinger of ethnic cleansing enacted by Serbs against Bosnian Muslims in the Bosnian War.

Amra Sabic-El-Rayess is one of those Bosnian Muslims. In THE CAT I NEVER NAMED, she recounts the 1,100 days under the Serbs’ military siege with profound tenderness and grace A coming-of-age memoir in the midst of a genocide, she writes unflinchingly about the atrocities she witnessed—jeering soldiers, the constant threat of rape and violence, sudden loss of freedoms—but also the adolescent turbulences and joys that persist even in wartime: Chocolate cake. A birthday party. A handsome boy. And Maci.

Maci, the Bosnian word for “kitty,” is a calico cat who finds her way to the Sabic family at the start of the war, and remains with them like a good luck charm. Seemingly preternaturally attuned to the events around her, she saves the Sabics from violence on several occasions. Along the way, she teaches Amra to nurture, to tend to living things and to love them fiercely, even in the cruelest circumstances.

At once unsparingly true and brimming with hope, THE CAT I NEVER NAMED will make an indelible impression. Amra writes with remarkable compassion—not only for her fellow Bosniaks, but for the whole of humanity. To read Amra’s words is to participate in her radical rejection of hatred, to experience her unflappable optimism, to share in her commitment to a better world."

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