Monday, January 10, 2011

Please Welcome Marianne Stephens

Marianne, I thank you for coming today to share Tamerla’s story. She’s truly a woman who had to live through more than challenging times.

First of all, can you give us a little bit of background about your nonfiction book, “Guilty Survivor – Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall”; where it takes place, and what was going on there…in general terms.
“Guilty Survivor” takes place in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War (1992-1995). Ethnic groups became pitted against each other in a struggle for power. People living in Sarajevo became political hostages, finding themselves “stuck” in the middle or a war zone. A background overview about Tamerla Kendall is given before her war years’ story is presented, and information about her life after the war is added.

How did you happen to meet Tamerla and write her story?
Friends knew I’d ghostwritten an autobiography of a female speaker for a women’s shelter back in 1999. They were acquainted with Tamerla and her husband, and knew Tamerla wanted to tell her story.

I believe nonfiction is a new venture for you, was there a great deal of research to be done?
I approached this as I did my first ghostwritten, nonfiction book. I tape-recorded all our sessions so I wouldn’t miss information and took notes as Tamerla spoke. I guided her into dividing her comments for certain periods of time in her life. I even interviewed her husband.
I read information about the war, and contacted Dr. Florian Bieber, a professor (now living/teaching in Austria) who wrote reports about the war for the United Nations. I asked if he’d give me permission to use some of his text in the Foreword of my book as historical background. He told me to send what I wanted to use, and he’d allow me to use the revised version he put in his book about the war. I appreciate his gracious gesture!

I understand she had to make some extremely difficult decisions concerning her children and their safety?
Her daughter, Joana, lived with her in Sarajevo and faced the fears war brings. Going to school was difficult and dangerous. Her first husband had already left, fleeing the area because he was afraid of being picked up by the Bosnian army. Although Joana could have gone with him, Tamerla was afraid that if her husband got caught trying to leave, Joana would be left somewhere alone.
When sniper and grenade attacks escalated, Tamerla had no choice but to plan a secretive trip to get Joana to safety. Using two cars and different drivers, they passed three checkpoints and arrived at her parents’ home in Croatia. Tamerla returned, as she was the only one to save their family restaurant for their future.
Her son, Eddie, was born after the war to Tamerla and her second husband, an American. Eddie was shunned at times for being half-American. When Tamerla was assaulted at gunpoint, robbed, and threatened because she married an American, she decided their lives were in jeopardy. Once again, she had to make plans to keep her child safe…and that meant getting Eddie out of Sarajevo.

How did that affect their relationships with their mother?
Eddie misses his friends, but has made new ones in the United States. He’s happy living with his mother and father.
Joana, on the other hand, was brain-washed into believing that her mother “abandoned” her by her father. Although he encouraged Tamerla to stay in Sarajevo to keep the business operating, his plan wasn’t to return. He wanted her to sell the business at the end of the war and move to Montenegro, where he settled with Joana during the war. Tamerla divorced him, and Joana refused to listen to her mother or see her. Their relationship is tentative now that Joana is an adult, but many heartbreaking years went by without any bonding.

Where is Tamerla today and how is she doing?
Tamerla lives in the Kansas City area with her second husband and son. She’s taking more English lessons and classes for a degree in Hotel Management and Food Preparation. Her goal is to get back into the restaurant business.
She visits Sarajevo occasionally, but things are not the same. She became a US citizen last year.

Finally, writing this book, about people living in such difficult and tragic times, in a war-torn country…how did this affect you?
I had to keep focused on the tragedy and hardships she faced while putting myself in her position. I found I couldn’t write romance books at the same time, because I’d try to turn Tamerla’s story into a romance! Hers is a difficult journey of survival, crucial decisions, and finding inner strength.

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Thanks for having me here today to talk about “Guilty Survivor – Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall”!

Guilty Survivor – Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall

Tamerla Kendall is the woman you see rooting for her son at sporting practice. You might meet her in a grocery story. Perhaps you’ll see her planting a garden behind her home. Or, talk to her at school or work. She’s a student, worker, wife and mother.

Surviving a dark past is hidden by her fa├žade of an everyday, average life. Reading her memoirs will reveal her true struggle to survive in a war zone, and is a testament to her courage.

Bosnian Croat, Tamerla Kendall, lived through the carnage and chaos in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War (1992-1995). Hers is a story of courage, fear, ingenuity, and survival. Difficult choices she made then still disturb her peace of mind and life today.

She made a few trips out of Sarajevo, only to return to keep the family restaurant business operating. One carefully planned, secretive trip was made to remove her daughter from the dangers of fighting, but this created a heartbreaking rift in their relationship. For her second trip, Tamerla masqueraded as a United Nations Protection Forces soldier and rode in a tank. A uniform and travel assistance came from a Ukrainian general.

Her hopes for a return to normalcy at war’s end diminished as corruption and religious zealots took control. She married an American, and this marked her as an outcast by some she’d trusted. When her life was threatened at gunpoint, she faced a critical decision concerning her family’s safety in her beloved country.

Guilty Survivor – Memoirs of Tamerla Kendall
Unofficial Excerpt:
Restaurant Meli was attacked more than once by grenades. I was downstairs in the bakery area the first time when a grenade was thrown. It destroyed my beautiful winter garden. There was broken glass and debris everywhere and the storefront was damaged.
My first reaction was one of fear and panic. I froze where I stood, wondering if the basement had also been hit and damaged. My heart skipped a beat, and then began beating wildly. What if I’d been upstairs? What if customers and my employees had been there? Then, my fear turned to anger. Why was this happening? Who were the cowards who tried to steal my sanity and wanted to drive me away?
That same day, my employees and I put up a heavy protective wall covering in the front of the restaurant. This remained in place during the war and for some time after the war ended.
In that one instant, everything changed before my eyes. I had felt a kind of safety I’d convinced myself existed inside my restaurant. I now knew that was no longer true.
Another time, a grenade destroyed my roof. After my initial sense of heart-pounding fear, anger again took its place. I let frustration rule my senses. I got up on the roof and had some employees help me repair the damage.
It was a long, difficult job, and a saner person might have considered how vulnerable we were standing out in the open. I’d gone beyond sane level thinking and just wanted to fix the damn roof. My employees didn’t balk at this, but joined me in doing the job quickly.
We had to put rolls of material and hot asphalt on the roof. Roof attacks happened five or six times. We fell into a routine of accomplishing repair work between sniper attacks.
Death and destruction were everywhere. There was no avoiding this. Ignoring it as if it didn’t happen on a regular basis would be like ignoring an elephant sitting in the restaurant.