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The Girl Who Smiled Beads

A Story of War and What Comes After

by Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil

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

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There are currently 27 reader reviews for The Girl Who Smiled Beads
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Power Reviewer
Priscilla M. (Houston, TX)

In search of self in the midst of war
This searing and personal account of the war in Rwanda reveals much more than just a war-torn, conflicted country. It told the story of a child 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. Claire, the oldest child in the family, was already certain of who she was and what she could do. Clemantine was only six, and her reaction to chaos of war was, in her own words, "I was just a feather, molted and mangled, drifting through space." Throughout the book, told in alternating stories of refugee camps in Africa and living as an immigrant in affluent American suburbs as a foster child, the reader comes to realize that even as an adult, successful American citizen, Clemantine has yet to come to a place in her life where all the broken pieces fit together as a whole. Her story is one that is blisteringly ugly and yet at the same time triumphant and proud. This is a must read.
Ariel F. (Madison, WI)

"Everything is yours, everything is not yours".
Memoir about surviving despite many obstacles. I found that the book brought me a range of emotions. I knew something about the Rwanda wars, but this book and the struggles the author and others went thru brought it home.

Why can't we all just get along?
Catherine O. (Altavista, VA)

A Story of Survival
Clemantine Wamariya's book is haunting. At the age of six when our children are enjoying Kindergarten this girl and her sister enter the world of refugees. The beauty of this book is in the simple way she tells her unbelievable journey. 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.

Clemantine's story pulls you along and surrounds you with strong images from her journey through war torn refugee camps, her attempts to assimilate into the United States, and her visits back to Africa in recent years.

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 The Girl Who Smiles Beads, it is exactly the type of thought provoking book we enjoy discussing.
Power Reviewer
Barbara O. (Red Bank, NJ)

A Powerful Story with a Beautiful Message "I Am Me"
Reading "The Girl Who Smiled Beads" hurt my heart. How does a 6 year old even have the vocabulary to describe the nightmare world she experienced? This book is a must read, 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. Despite the ugliness of genocide, this book describes human resilience and the strength of love and goodness and the determination to be counted. This book should be read and discussed.
Diane H. (Leawood, KS)

Eye Opener
For me, this book was a huge eye opener. I knew very little about the massacre in Rwanda.

In this memoir Clementine exposes the reader to the horrors of the Rwandan massacre and draws us into her reality. We feel her fear, insecurity and anger. It is heartbreaking to learn that even today she struggles with her identity and her place in society. Her anger is palpable on the pages.

I liked the fact that she also showed us the ways in which Claire and her mother dealt with their horrendous pain and loss. 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.

This is an engrossing book and one I had a hard time putting down. Worth the read!!!
Power Reviewer
Lani S. (Narberth, PA)

Painful, riveting and IMPORTANT
Powerful, powerful novel painted with shades of raw urgency that propelled me to read this in two days. Clementine and her older sister Clara,born into a middle class family in Rwanda, were sucked from their family's bosom due to the vile nature of war and internecine conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis. The next several years they spent on the run from country to country and from one refugee camp to another finally ending up in the United States,hoping this was the land of the American dream. What makes this book different from all other refugee books is the riveting dialogue and self exploration that accompanies Clementine's growth as she lands in a foster care's family in Chicago and eventually on to Yale as a undergraduate. It was eye opening to observe the circumstances that formed her personality, to contemplate the horrors that she underwent each and every day, and to be humbled by my own insensitivity as to how questions might have been perceived as she tried to claw her way towards her own humanity. I cannot recommend this enough!
Power Reviewer
Viqui G. (State College, PA)

The Girl Who Smiled Beads
Wow! Reading Wamariya's memoir of her refugee experience as a child then her early years in the US was both illuminating and excruciating.. I was amazed at the resilience and tenacity of both Claire and of course of Clementine during their years in Africa. But perhaps the most interesting part of the memoir was Clementine's description of her feelings and psyche after she was in the US and 'safe'. She was both grateful to be in a safe environment but also very angry. Her anger stemmed from her lost childhood but also the frustration that no one could really understand her feelings. She constantly tested her friends and family and admitted that she made it very difficult for others to love her. Wamariya's writing was very blunt and achingly honest. At times it was hard to read, but I feel enriched by knowing Wamariya's story.
Power Reviewer
Betty T. (Warner Robins, GA)

Searches for her own value
I cannot even begin to imagine what life was like in Rwanda during the time of the massacre there. I remember watching the movie "Hotel Rwanda" and thinking what a horror story this was, yet it wasn't a story – it was real life. I remember hearing hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina speak of his experience. How could all this horror really happen! And now Clementine Wamariya tells us of her personal experience.

As I read this powerful story I couldn't help comparing it to the Holocaust. Imagine how it would be to grow up in a middle class family among others just like yourself. Then suddenly life changes. She was only four years old when her world started shrinking. She could no longer go to kindergarten. She was forbidden to play with her oldest friend. No one goes to the market anymore. There is no running water in the house; electricity is on and off.

Then came the time that Clementine (age 15) and Claire (now six years old) had to escape. Imagine a young child having to walk for hours. She sees people sleeping in water – sleeping and sleeping – bodies floating. The next six years they move from one country to another, from one refugee camp to another. Along with the atrocities they encounter, they also experience kindness in unlikely places. They eventually end up in the US, not knowing the fate of their parents.

Clementine writes of their emotional reaction to all this – how Claire shuts down and how they learn to not trust anyone. Clementine draws on her inner strength to determine who she is as an individual and explore who she wants to be. After being treated as something less than human, she now searches for her own value.

From this book we can learn the impact of war on humans. We can reach out to other refugees while recognizing that, for the children, their innocence is forever shattered. Clementine teaches us that some parts of the person can be repaired, some parts cannot be. While others saw her as "broken", that is not how she saw herself.

I used the word "horror" to describe how I felt when seeing the movie and hearing the speaker. Now there are other words to describe what I felt while reading this book – powerful, raw, devastating, hopeful, determined, and very, very brave.

Beyond the Book:
  Rwanda Today

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