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

4.57  ·  Rating details ·  412 ratings  ·  124 reviews
The stunning memoir of a Muslim teen struggling to survive the Bosnian genocide--and the stray cat who protected her family through it all.

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 sh
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published September 8th 2020 by Bloomsbury YA
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Jessi Thank you for asking this. I'm about halfway through the book, and feeling horribly anxious about that very question. I, too, feel a bit silly about i…moreThank you for asking this. I'm about halfway through the book, and feeling horribly anxious about that very question. I, too, feel a bit silly about it, given the scale of what else is happening in the book; but there you have it. I wanted to know what to expect.(less)

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Oct 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is an incredible account of genocide that took place during the early 1990s in Bosnia.

Amra was 16 when the war started; while I was only 8 at the time, the events and experiences she documents closely parallel my own during the 1100+ day siege on our home town Bihać. Amra captures how quickly friends turned into enemies, allowing centuries long hatred and prejudice against the Muslim population to lead to the worst genocide on the European continent since WWII. On the first day of war
Jess Witkins
Sep 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book will sit with me for awhile. I read it as covid-19 continues to spread across the U.S. It offered so much perspective. Our nation is being asked to stay in, limit our socialization, and wear a mask to stop the spread of the virus. These are transitions we must make, but they are little in comparison to what Amra had to face in a war torn country. Yet, the author's letter at the end says she wrote it during the start of covid-19, and she felt sorry for all of us as she understood how ha ...more
Ms. Mester
Beautifully written and moving. Framing the story around her cat Maci (Bosnian for cat) that was her emotional guide throughout the war while she was a teenager will really resonate with the teen audience. She doesn't shy away from the true horrors and brutality trying to survive during a war/genocide and I appreciate that she was so vulnerable and honest to share her personal experiences. Front and back matter give context to the Bosnian war and her writing process. A unique perspective on a co ...more
Sue Em
May 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
A wrenching, yet life affirming true story of a bright Muslim girl whose world is decimated by the horrors of the Bosnian conflict yet finds ways to get an education and live helped her family and friends and a small cat named Maci. Her resilence is extraordinary. Don't miss the afterward where she discusses and compares the disruptions of her youth to what is happening now with the pandemic. Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read the book in exchange for an honest rev ...more
Ashley Will
Oct 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am about to go to work soon but just finished a book that made me ugly cry that I started last week - "The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival" ; it's about a family in Bosnia amid war. And it's so heartbreaking and such a good book that felt really important to read. I recommend the book but it's definitely heavy and not a binge read. It's just so sad but also good too as you care about the narrator and her family and you fall in love with all of them, including the cat ...more
Feb 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I don't normally reach for this genre, especially if it's not in graphic novel format but I am extremely happy that I decided to read it. This book is emotional for so many different reasons. I had to keep reading to learn what happened to Amra's city, her friends, family, and of course Maci. I previously knew very little about the war in Bosnia. I feel as though this book was released during a time when it was very much needed not only as a reminder of global issues but of issues right outside ...more
Amra Pajalic
This is an incredible memoir about Amra's experiences living under siege in Bihac during the Balkan War of 1992-1995. It was an amazing insight into the hardship and heartbreak of war. Maci, the cat that Amra and her family adopted was such a beautiful soul and helped give Amra hope and fight for life, when it seemed that none was to be found. The writing was beautiful and evocative. I keep seeing Maci in my mind's eye.

I also have to say that the cover was absolutely stunning and I loved the us
Nov 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I wasn't expecting to love this book. I picked it up because of its amazing cover art, but when I started reading, I was immediately sucked into Sabic-El-Rayess' writing. It was a beautiful story told through beautiful prose, and I found myself tearing up a bit at the end. Highly, highly HIGHLY recommend to all humans everywhere. ...more
I'm typing this review with tears in my eyes and a heart full of love for Maci, the amazing stray cat that brought joy into the life of the author and her family during almost three years of turmoil in Bihac, Bosnia. I am also grateful to the author for returning to this painful time and sharing her experiences through the pages of this book, a YALSA Nonfiction finalist. Amra spent the last part of her teen years in hiding with her family as the Serbs laid siege to her city, trying to starve out ...more
Feb 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Of all the YA and MG nonfiction books I have consumed recently this one took me the longest to get into and to finish but I have a feeling it will also have the biggest impact.

Amra was 16 when the war in Bosnia broke out. One day her Serb neighbors all disappeared from her town and the bombing started. One day she was a normal high school kid worried about grades and thinking about her friends and if she would ever fall in love. The next she and her family are fighting for their survival. If no
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This novel, based on true facts about Amra Sabic's life directly before, during, and also after the war that took place in the 1990s in the countries of Ex-Yugoslavia, is definitely the best book I've read in 2020. Amra tells her story in outright, honest, unadorned and raw words, which made me empathize with her situation as a teenager in a war-torn city without any real future perspective except survival in an extremely close-to-heart way. In that time, being a lucky child in Austria I didn't ...more
Reviewing for SLJ, see review there.
Feb 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I loved the book. When she got on the bus I felt as unsafe as she did right then and there. The author makes you feel the emotions of the characters so strong that you would cry if they were crying. I could really relate because I’m a girl I think. But the separation of best friends just because of racial differences is heartbreaking. When she watched all those refugees come into their town and did not react to the soldiers. I felt proud of being a girl somehow...
Having academic goals and the k
Mrs. Reno
What strikes me the most about this story is the way it brings home how little we can know about the suffering of others, and at the same time, the amazing ways in which love can truly save us, even in the worst of times. And yes, I cried. That was a given.
Asima Mahmutbegovic
Feb 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Could not recommend it enough. This story is such an inspiring story. But beyond that, the story telling, storyline, the analogies, descriptions, everything was just so perfectly described and presented. I read the book with my 14 year old daughter; it took us a little bit longer than we would’ve liked (especially for my daughter who would’ve ripped through it in a day), because we would pause and talk about the story, what was happening etc... But, we would also talk about my story, and my expe ...more
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
It is really sad how little someone knows about things that happened right next door. Yes, I remember other pupils, refugees from ex-Jugoslavia and I knew there was a war, but we never learned more about that later in school. This is a mixture of beautiful storytelling with brutal contemporary witness report´ - and it really confronts you with the terror of living in a war zone. So if you are easily triggered by violence, the idea of rape, mutilation or death, you probably schould take some time ...more
Michael Kott
Dec 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: great-reads
I know many of you read and review because it's your job. It's not mine so I read what I like. When I saw someone review this book, I thought that looks interesting; so I purchased a copy. This is Amra Sabic's true story of her survival, as a Muslim teenager, the Bosnian persecution by the Serbs. She credits a small stray calico cat with in many instances saving her and her family from greater harm. Amra's story should be required reading for all the persecutor's out there. Extremely well writte ...more
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is certainly not a light read but there were some pockets of light and humor throughout the story. The author’s relationship with her cat gave me so many feelings, as I’m a cat owner and animal lover myself, and I loved how Maci brought joy in an otherwise tragic time. This story is heavy but so important and timely.
I was surprised by how taken away I was by this YALSA best nonfiction nominee. Amra's memoir of being a teenager in a small town in Bosnia during the 90s as war and genocide ravaged her country is an intense read. She doesn't give any big context to what is going on and it is through her narrative of what is happening to her, her friends, her family that I grew curious of the larger context. I found this such an interesting writing strategy. There are no big paragraphs or chapters on the history ...more
Jan 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This amazing book is a memoir about the war between the Bosnians and the Serbs in the 1990's. Amra, her family, and Maci (the cat) and how they survived the war. A lesson for us all that we have more in common than we have differences. We need to remember that we CAN all live together peacefully. ...more
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've read in my life ... True story about the fear of a teenage girl, her family and a cat who plays a very important role in the life of this good and honest family who cannot accept the human hatred. A million questions, dilemmas and fights in the girl's head growing up surrounded by the horrors of war and the story of people who became monsters overnight ... but maybe it wasn't overnight...?
Thanks to the writer for sending a message to young people that education is the
Feb 16, 2021 rated it did not like it
I am sorry for what happened to the Bosnians. But i’ll comment as book reader. There are parts that kinda baffled me.
Amra mentioned that she’s proud of her muslim identity thus the time when her parents told her to move out to follow a Serb family, and change her name to Serb’s name, she didn’t want that. But often times she emphasized that the Bosnian muslims are just Muslim by names only. Also sometimes she was like questioning why did Serbs attacking Bosnians muslim when they don’t even prac
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Being born and raised during the same war, I was always interested in reading about other peoples’ experiences. Amra vividly paints a sorrowful but hopeful image of what the war was to her and how she survived. The book was an easy read and made it hard for me to put it down. I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend it to others.

The only thing I will say was the few careless comments about Muslims... they were a little insensitive for me personally. Came across a few lines in regards to not wea
Hoover Public Library Kids and Teens
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. (from Publishers Weekly)
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Wow- Phenomenal! I will recommend this to everyone.
Oct 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Touching Story of Young Woman in Bosnia

In the early 1990s, Yugoslavia fell apart as a country. It was made up of several ethnic groups and different religious practices. The Serbs who were mostly Catholic and orthodox, tended to be the most powerful group under Yugoslavia 's government, began trying to pacify and dominate the other groups. Bosnians mainly lived in the former capital which was a prized area. The Serbs began planning a genocide to get rid of Bosnians who are Muslim. This novel tel
Hannah Hamill
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book so much. It is a YA novel so the pace of the writing took me a bit to get used to but it’s such a well-told story about the Bosnian genocide told from the stories of a survivor and led along by a sweet story of her adopted cat (of course I was all over this). The book was published in fall 2020 and the author added an end note about the pandemic and racism in the US and tied them to her experiences as a teen that felt so relevant right now. I highly recommend for all adults and ...more
Adisa Salaka
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A must read on the topic of the Bosnian Genocide. Amra writes in such a relatable fashion that I didn’t want t put the book down! This is such a courageous story that everyone can walk away with a valuable life lesson by the end of it. This book should be on everyone’s reading list!
Mar 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
What caught my eye about The Cat I Never Named : A True Story of Love, War, and Survival? Was it the cover? The title? The blurb?
The stunning memoir of a Muslim teen struggling to survive the Bosnian genocide--and the stray cat who protected her family through it all.

Yes! It was all of these things. As a cat lover who has long been owned by cats, I was intrigued. Because I knew very little about the struggles of the Muslims and Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it seemed like a perfect learn
Unfortunately genocide is something that happens too often and from the start of time. Again, unfortunately it's something that we learn very little of in history class - except for the Holocaust. But there have been more recent genocides than what happened in WWII and against all ethnicities and religions - Rohingya, Uyghur, Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, the list goes on and on.

Be ready with a box of tissues when reading this. I remember the tragedy of what happened in Bosnia during the 1990s. I wa
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