Kenan Trebinčević was 11 years old when the Bosnian War arrived in his hometown of Brcko on May 1, 1992. He remembers going to buy bread at the store and being told by a neighbor not to come back because “pretty soon you Turks won’t need to be eating anymore.”
His memories of the war, his family’s escape and his return to Brcko as an adult are recounted in the memoir “The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile and Return,” published this month. Trebinčević is in St. Louis for a presentation about the book at the St. Louis County Library tonight.
In 1992, Trebinčević’s karate coach dragged his father and brother to a concentration camp, and he and his mother were moved to a ghetto-like camp in town – all because they were Muslim. After 14 days in the concentration camp, Trebinčević’s father and brother escaped with the help of a guard. And on January 3, 1993 the family was able to escape the country entirely with the help of a Bosnian police chief, “a lot of luck and a blizzard.”
Although two men helped his family, many more friends and neighbors betrayed them, and the anger and resentment against those who turned against them stayed with Trebinčević through the years as he grew up in Connecticut and became a physical therapist in New York City.
At his father’s request, Trebinčević accompanied his father on a trip to Brcko in 2011 – their first visit since they left almost 20 years before. He made plans to visit the grave of his karate coach and confront those who betrayed his family. But what he discovered on the trip, and in writing about his experiences later, was a way to let go of his anger.
While writing the memoir, co-author Susan Shapiro quoted Joan Didion to Trebinčević: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.”
Trebinčević found truth in the quote, discovering an evolution of his thoughts as he put them in words.
“So while at first I felt like a young boy who lost his happy childhood, I came to understand how amazingly happy we were. And by reliving what happened to me, it made me stop clinging to a two-decade-old anger over what Serbs did to us and for the first time see my past with a different set of eyes. I mean, I’m a person who still holds grudges, and the resentment will never disappear, but I feel more lucky than bitter,” he said.
St. Louis County Library's 'Buzz' Westfall Favorite Author Series Presents Kenan Trebinčević
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
St. Louis County Library, 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
For more information, call 314-994-3300 or visit the St. Louis County website.