Last summer, 33-year-old, Astoria-based physical therapist, Kenan Trebincevic, presented his patient, New School professor Susan Shapiro, with three pages of his childhood memoir. Just one year later he would publish, with co-author Shapiro, The Bosnia List, his debut full-length memoir about his boyhood struggle under the 1992 (former) Yugoslavian ethnic cleansing campaign. The Bosnia List tells the story of Mr. Trebincevic, his family, and the other 200,000 Bosnian Muslims killed in cold blood. It is a gripping recollection of life in wartime; and of his return from the United States to Bosnia two decades later, to face the people who betrayed him.
New School student, Sam Bove, sat down with Kenan Trebincevic to comb through some of his writing process. The Bosnia List can be bought through Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound and other select retailers.
Sam Bove: What did your family think about the book?
Kenan Trebincevic: I don’t have much family left but they really liked it. I mean, right after my brother read it he texted me, “WTF?” I knew he had read about the time I ran out to get bread for our family, and my ex-math teacher tried to execute me in the street. His gun jammed and I ran off. There were a lot of things in the book I hadn’t told my family yet.
SB: Your memoir was recently translated into Bosnian. You’ve got a lot of fans in your hometown Brcko?
KT: I hear I’m either really liked, or really disliked. What surprised me was how many people cared about my story. I mean, I was eleven years old; I wasn’t a hero. I did a reading in Salt Lake City a couple weeks ago and 120 people showed up; most of them Bosnians. That’s a lot.
SB: Had you written about your experience before The Bosnia List?
KT: No. But when we escaped in 1993 and were living in Austria, a Bosnian newspaper hosted a contest for children to draw pictures about their lives. I drew pictures of my friends who had betrayed me during the war, and wrote a bit about them, and got first place. I was just a kid though. My mother gave me a kiss and a pastry.
SB: What spurred you to start at thirty-three years old?
KT: The trip to Bosnia I took with my father and brother—in the book—brought a lot back. One night, after meeting with Susan, I went home and forty-three pages just poured out of me. I was writing it for myself in the beginning. Then I was writing for my family.
SB: What’s next?
KT: The second Bosnia List. In the first book when I went back to Bosnia, I wanted revenge against people who betrayed us. I wanted to make sure certain people were dead and confront those still alive. But there were a lot of people who helped us too, like the former police chief, who got us out of the country after we had failed six times. I want to go back now with a list of people to thank—like him.
SB: Do you still want revenge?
KT: Most of those people are getting what they deserve. My book is out. Unemployment is really high in Bosnia, so most of them are stuck sitting around, drinking beer, and chain-smoking all day. I go back [to Bosnia] and I’m fit, I’ve got a good job and a better life.
SB: Are you fully committed to writing now?
KT: Physical therapy pays the bills. I mean, if I didn’t have to work I’d probably do physical therapy part-time, and write the other.
SB: As a former refugee, do you ever stop being one?
KT: When I was thirteen we moved to Connecticut from Europe, and for once, I didn’t have a duffel bag or suitcase in the hallway waiting to be taken away. Yeah, I’m established. I’m an American citizen.
This piece is the first of 12th Street Journal‘s new series, “Crisis Expressive,”which focuses on why and how we, as humans, creatively express during personal and public moments of crisis. If you have a story to express, we would be exulted to read it. Submit.