BookBrowse Reviews The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Elizabeth Weil, Clemantine Wamariya

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The Girl Who Smiled Beads

A Story of War and What Comes After

by Elizabeth Weil, Clemantine Wamariya

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Elizabeth Weil, Clemantine Wamariya X
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Elizabeth Weil, Clemantine Wamariya
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 288 pages
    Apr 2019, 304 pages

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About this Book



The Girl Who Smiled Beads is an affecting memoir authored by a young survivor of the Rwandan genocide.

Of the 26 First Impression readers who submitted reviews, 24 gave it four or five stars for an overall score of 4.4.

What it's about:
Clemantine Wamariya is an important writer who painfully, yet masterfully, exposes the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide and its effect on herself and her family (Rosemary C). This searing and personal account reveals much more than just a war-torn, conflicted country; it's the story of a girl who lost her family, her identity and her childhood. For six years Clemantine and her sister Claire moved from one refugee camp to another, seeking shelter but finding only hunger, disease and inhumane treatment. Throughout the book, told in alternating stories set in refugee camps in Africa, and in affluent American suburbs where the author lived as an immigrant and foster child, the reader comes to realize that even as a successful American citizen, Clemantine has yet to come to a place in her life where all the broken pieces fit together as a whole (Priscilla M). Despite the ugliness of genocide, this book describes human resilience and the strength of love and goodness and the determination to be counted (Barbara O).

Readers feel it is enlightening and timely:
The Girl Who Smiled Beads is beautifully written, disturbing and eye opening. We all need to know, on a personal level, what happens when human beings find themselves in the middle of conflict (Barbara O). Clemantine Wamariya writes about a life so foreign to me that I had to remind myself I wasn't reading fiction (Sandra H). She reminds us that millions of Africans have been affected by genocide, she is but one survivor and each survivor has had a different experience (Catherine O). Her memoir makes real what we only glimpse on nightly news. This story of child refugees tutors us in why we must save them, and in the strength they bring to our country (Paula B). It gives one hope that refugees can find a better life (Kate S).

Many found it a compelling read:
What a magnificently powerful and emotionally raw memoir. The book greatly impacted my entire being—down to the most basic fiber (Pattie P). It is a breathtaking and heartbreaking story (Peggy K). We feel the author's fear, insecurity and anger as she describes what she and her sister endured. It is heart-rending to learn that even today she struggles with her identity and her place in society; her anger is palpable on the pages (Diane H). Her story is one that is blisteringly ugly and yet at the same time triumphant and proud (Priscilla M). I found myself haunted by Claire's comment near the end of the book: "When I remember our experiences, I'm alone." Each family member has her own reality (Diane H).

The topic was challenging for some:
The descriptions of Claire and Clemantine's living conditions are beyond my ability to comprehend or even imagine. No human being should be subjected to the circumstances these two girls lived through (Laurie W). The subject matter was "hell on earth." The terrible things that people can inflict on one another for no reason strike me as insane and reading about the girls' experiences made this book difficult for me (Kate S).

Some felt the timeline unclear:
Wamariya's decision to alternate chapters between life as a refugee with life in the United States served to demonstrate her disorientation and confusion in her different worlds, but as a reader it made it hard to follow both tracks. I often had to refer back to previous chapters to remember her age, location and other important elements (Kathleen K).

Most reviewers highly recommended The Girl Who Smiled Beads:
This memoir is a must read, especially for those of us who live in the US. This is also a must read for all book groups and individuals who have the freedom to pick and choose what they read, but also, more importantly, have safe places to live and government intervention programs to help the less fortunate. I cannot recommend it strongly enough (Sandra H). I will be recommending this book to everyone I know who wishes to expand their view of the world. I know my book club will be reading it; it is exactly the type of thought provoking book we enjoy discussing (Catherine O).

This review was originally published in May 2018, and has been updated for the April 2019 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Rwanda Today

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