Turning a war-torn childhood into a book for young adults that teaches lessons about hate, genocide


“The Cat I Never Named,” a memoir by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess, chronicles her life as a Muslim teenager in Bosnia and Herzegovina surviving the siege by the Serbian military nearly 30 years ago.  

“I spent 1,150 days living under the Serb military siege, cut off from the rest of the world, starving, losing many dear friends and family members that I had loved, simply because we were Muslim,” said Sabic-El-Rayess.  

Thousands of Bosnian Muslims were massacred between 1992 and 1995 during the Bosnian war.  They were victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Sabic-El-Rayess says a nameless refugee cat that followed her home one day helped save her life. It became the focus of her book about living through the war. 

“She picked us as her family adopted herself and became really critical source of hope and love during the war when humans hated us,” explained Sabic-El-Rayess. “Whenever I got depressed or really sad about what my life at that time looked like, she was there.” 

After the war, Sabic-El-Rayess immigrated to the U.S. and became a professor at Columbia University teaching statistics. She incorporated stories of her own life into her lessons. 

“My students would always tell me that the stories I told in the classroom were the most important lessons that they learned, that later on shaped what they did in their own careers,” said Sabic-El-Rayess.  

Sabic-El-Rayess is now studying why societies fall apart, and what role education can play in rebuilding war-torn nations.  She decided to write this book after her youngest daughter became concerned Muslims here in the United States might be rounded up and taken away. 

That was for me the critical moment that jolted me, made me realize that in some ways, I was abdicating my responsibility as a genocide survivor to share my story with the world,” she said.

When Sabic-El-Rayess shared her story with the world, she did it through a book targeting young adults as her main demographic. 

“Because it allowed me to really open a window for young people in America to this idea that hatred has consequences, hatred has a final destination, and that final destination is inevitably always violence,” explained Sabic-El-Rayess.  

If you want to learn more about Sabic-El-Rayess and her story, you can visit her website by clicking here.  

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