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Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews

Interview with Kenan Tribencevic, author of The Bosnia List

 Q : Who was the most pathetic character you met when you went back? I thought it was Petra.

KT : I’d say it was Petra too. I didn’t run into any of my old friends. I let Petra go on with her lies and her own explanations because then it only made me realise how they all live in one big collective denial. Also, the new mantra is that everyone is guilty and the politicians were the ones to blame for the concentration camps and rapes. As I listened to her lie to my brother, how our mother “gave” her our belongings to hold until we “came” back , while chastising those that kicked us out, I wondered if she had 20 years to change the histroy of what she used to do to my mother, or if she changed it on the spot when she met us for the sit down encounter.

Q : You say in the book that the only consciousness you had of being Muslim was that your secular family ‘had Ramadan and no Santa Claus’. Why is it important to stress that brand of being Muslim?

KT : The religion of Islam, like any other religion, comes in different “packages”. The media associates Islam with Taliban, Al-Qaeda, 9-11 and ISIS,since for the last two decades many of the terrorist organisations have been religiously extremist. However, the side of Islam the world sees now is not by definition ‘Islamic’ since Islam preaches peace. Unfortunately, those which want to impose their own made-up views , beliefs and terror on those more secular, grab our attention and news headlines. Comparing a Bosnian Muslim to a Mid Eastern Muslim is no different from comparing a reformed American Jew to an orthodox Jew. Cultural identities and customs are the main and most important difference when comparing/contrasting.

Q : Who , of all the people in your past, would you invite to your place for rakija?

KT : Why?  Coach ‘Bosko’ (not his real name). He’s the current karate coach of our former club in the old hometown. Coach Bosko comes from an ethnically mixed background and the conflict is embedded under his own skin.His father was an orthodox Christian Serb while his mother was a Bosniak -A Bosnian Muslim. He came during the war, unarmed, to check on his , bringing us a loaf of bread. He walks a narrow thin line trying to please both sides while living in Brcko. He never took advantage or abused his power during the war and remains the same today. He is just not like the “others”.

Q : Many immigrants call the US home,get assimilated into it and love it. Yet , most yearn for what they left behind . Did your trip give you closure on that? 

KT : It was always easier for me since i’ve only spent the first 12 years of my life in Bosnia. It was always difficult for the older generation like my parents. I made new friends in the States and this is where close friends, teachers, coworkers, and mentors, who were sensitive to me past and supportive of me. I still get to preserve my Bosnian culture, language, while enjoying my liberties as a proud American. America gave me a second chance and I was never turned away from my goals because of my ethnicity and religion. I believe it is the contrary in Europe. While I will periodically go back to revisit my past, I know I belong in the States. I left behind my once happy childhood, disturbed and interrupted by carnage.

Q : Apart from forgiveness and closure, one of the other emotions you felt was guilt. Would you expand upon that?

KT : I forgave myself for having a better life in New York than I would’ve had if I stayed in Bosnia. I wish that I was a bit older in 1992, and could have helped our people. I always wished I was 18 and could have joined my cousin and other men in defending and avenging. I was the bitter 12-15 year old who wanted that rifle and revenge. But I was only helpless. My mother once told me, “No one would thank you later on.”She was right. Veterans have been forgotten, and people ask what was the point of it all, if we were going to forgive, forget, and live together again without any war reparations, acknowledgements, or an apology. Instead, denial, nationalism and hatred have stayed and are growing . By writing the memoir, I have done something more. This is the best wat to educate our future generations. For me, its so important that this was my best revenge for all those crimes our neighbors and others have committed against innocent civilians. I’ve given our younger generation the voice, and hopefully empowered them to share their stories, and start their healing process , Its OK to feel exposed and vulnerable, because thats the only way one won’t feel stuck in one place.

Q : Do you think forgiveness is over-rated? And no matter what we say, sometimes, it is difficult to forgive?

KT : Everyone has their own recipe for moving forward. There’s that old cliched expression of forgiving others so you are at peace. I need a better reason to forgive. I think one should be asked to be forgiven by those they have done wrong to. Then, you have to be shown how your actions had affected the other person and feel true remorse. But how do you forgive those who have changed the entire outcome of your life and your family’s future roots? I believe genocide should never be forgiven and neither should concentration camps, rapes and such brutality. Esp when it comes from your former friends, classmates and neighbors.I think forgiveness is a very overused word, and thrown around like a pinball. I took all of my resentment and anger which would never disappear and turned that into something positive. I also acknowledged the good people who saved my family and any good deeds that came from anyone, even the war criminal I mentioned in the book.

Q: Why did it take you so long to visit your mother’s grave?

KT : I haven’t visited it since 2009. Any items that you had not put in your Bosnia List, and you wish you had? I would have loved to scout out my former serb friends. But it wouldn’t have been for anything positive, so I am glad my brother acted like secret service around me and wouldn’t let me out of his vision in Bosnia.

Q : Tell us a Bosnian favorite dish!

KT : I don’t really lean toward a particular one, but I like stuffed peppers with minced ground beef and rice.

Q : With so many wars and conflicts in the world today, why do you think your memoir and the experience are important to be read and heard?

KT : I don’t want the readers to think The Bosnia List is a novel, a piece of fiction. It is a memoir and anyone reading it could find themselves in it. Men can relate to feelings of revenge, despair and anger while women empathise with betrayal and the story of a family. I think Bosnia is a canvas, a background, but The Bosnia List is about adversity ( I hate that word, another overused one), understanding, transformation and redemption. 


About Preeti Singh

I am a bookaholic. I love stories, storytelling. I enjoy helping people structure their storytelling, and I love to share the stories I discover.

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This entry was posted on September 7, 2014 by in Interviews, Memoir, Non Fiction.
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