Remembering the war that tore Yugoslavia apart

In 1991, Kenan Trebincevic was a 10-year-old boy living with his family in the city of Brcko in northern Bosnia. They had been living contented lives. Then a war broke out. This conflict was beyond his understanding. What was happening? The Trebincevics were Muslims — suddenly some of his friends were mistreating him. His favorite teacher bristled with hostility? What was going on? The ethnic cleansing of Bosnia was now underway.

Trebincevic tells his story in “The Bosnia List — a Memoir of War, Exile, and Return” written with Susan Shapiro. The situation rapidly deteriorated. Soon they had no heat, no electricity and very little food. By the occasion of the author’s 12th birthday he observed: “I had no friends, no party, no cake.”

But they were fortunate. He reflects: “yet amid the surreal chaos, where nothing was fair or made sense, it seemed that all my parents’ good deeds added up to a shield just strong enough to keep us alive.”

His parents decided that they must escape. They had to leave the country if they were to survive.

They knew they had to get out of Bosnia and attempted to flee on a number of occasions but were stopped before they could. Things became increasing desperate. A couple of Serbian thugs from Belgrade, a man and a woman, began systematically terrifying the family. The Serb woman would show up at their apartment brandishing an AK47. She demanded furniture and other valuables. The family submitted to her demands.

They were too afraid to do otherwise.

Finally the Trebincevics made a harrowing escape to Vienna. Eventually they began new lives in the United States. Nineteen years later, the author returned to Bosnia with his father and brother for a brief visit. He brought along a list, his “Bosnia List” of the title. He was feeling a lot of anger about what had happened to his family and the items on his list were things that he hoped to resolve.

The book is arranged so that readers can track two alternately shifting story lines that interlock. The chapters shift back and forth through time. You’ll hear about his experiences during the war then find out what happened afterwards upon returning to Bosnia following their two decades of exile.

In “The Bosnia List,” one finds that there is no black or white, just shades of gray. The author wanted to confront some people who had wronged his family. He was surprised by what he learned and found that “by admitting my hurt and facing down the people who’d scarred me here, I did feel unburdened.”

His views on the peace talks that ended the war are also painfully frank. He writes that ” It was the worst blow of our lives when Western leaders imposed the deeply flawed Dayton Accords in 1995. The treaty unfairly ended the conflict before we could rightfully win the war we were forced into. For us that meant we were never going home.”

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