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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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There are currently 27 reader reviews for The Girl Who Smiled Beads
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Brutally Honest
This is one of the most difficult books I have read, yet it is an essential read. It is at once a memoir and an expose. How can I ever relate to Clemantine’s life? I will never know her tragedy. The terrible genocide that was visited upon the Tutsi by the Hutu majority government becomes more than real in Clemantine’s telling. I will never think of a refugee camp again with anything but horror.
Julie M. (Golden Valley, MN)

Stories Can Heal Us
This is the stunning story of Clementine and her survival of the Rwandan genocide, her emigration to the United States at age 12 and her coming of age in a new country. She is heartbreaking and inspiring all at the same time. As a lover of literature myself I loved how she used books and stories to come to terms with and understand her life and who she is meant to be..ever changing and a work in progress. Five Stars!
Paula B. (Albuquerque, NM)

Experience the life of a child refugee
I enjoyed this very timely book. The fresh look at the devastation of war and the angst of survival from the perspective of a child brings us face to face with the reality of many children in our war torn world. This personal story makes real what we only glimpse on nightly news. Perhaps the most eye opening are the experiences of 6 year old Clemantine and her 15 year old sister as they learn to navigate American society and its excesses. This book expands your knowledge of the world, but is neither stuffy nor preachy, after all it is ultimately from the voice of a child. This story of child refugees tutors us in why we must save them and the strength they bring us.
Rosemary C. (Golden, CO)

A Riveting Account of the Aftermath of War
Clemantine Wamariya is an important writer who painfully, yet masterfully, exposes the atrocities of the Rwanda genocide and the effect on her and her family. She gives the reader glimpses, vignettes, of her life before the war, of her and her sister's ordeal for seven years as refugees, and her attempts to find her life story in the bits and pieces of her memory. She hardens herself to survive, but years after she has lived in the United States, it is clear she is willing to make herself vulnerable to gain some peace and understanding of who she is and how she can meld her conflicting emotions, fears and hopes into a whole, connected person. She is a gifted writer and I'm grateful for the difficult story she has shared.
Power Reviewer
Sandra H. (St. Cloud, MN)

Life as We Do Not Know It
How does one process a book that describes the undiscribable to a free, safe, healthy and well off American? Clemantine Wamariya opened my eyes to a life so foreign to me that I had to remind myself I wasn't reading fiction. Her life and the lives of Rwandans who experienced the genocide is must reading 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 not only what they read but, more importantly, have safe places to live and government intervention programs to help many of our less fortunate. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Make "The Girl Who Smiled at Beads" your book groups's next selection. And be sure to recommend it as a must book for your library.
Laurie W. (Fredonia, NY)

The Girl Who Smiled Beads
The title of the book is based on a story that Clementine's nanny, Mukamana, would tell her. It was about a beautiful, magical girl who roamed the earth, smiling beads, and it was her favorite story. How ironic that Clementine ended up roaming the world.

The references to different books throughout the memoir is interesting. Clementine read many she could relate to: Night by Ellie Weisel, Sula by Toni Morrison, Infidel by Ayana Hirsi Ali, The Natural History of Destruction and Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald. Each of these books helped Clementine to feel she wasn't alone in her thoughts and heartaches. So many times as we read a book we can relate to the characters or the situation and feel a little bit better about ourselves and life. It is a comfort to know we are not alone and Clemantine felt the same. Someone finally understood.

One of the most moving passages in the book is found on pages 94-95. It begins "The word genocide cannot tell you how I felt…" Such a moving and heartbreaking excerpt. Her description has remained with me. (The passage was too long to write here.)

I found this book extremely hard to read. The descriptions of Claire's and Clementine'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. This is a book that should be required reading in high school so we never forget what happened and it is never repeated. A 5 star book.

Each stanza of the poem by Maya Angelou, "Still I Rise" was a mantra to Clementine. It is beautiful and fitting. Here is a portion that appears on page 213.

   Did you want to see me broken?

   Bowed head and lowered eyes?

   You may kill me with your hatefulness,
   But still, like air, I'll rise.
Power Reviewer
Peggy K. (San Diego, CA)

Loss of Identity
This is a breathtaking and heartbreaking novel. It may be hard to understand completely unless you have experienced such a traumatic event but everyone would benefit from reading this tale. Rwanda was and still is a horrific thing. While we may only touch the surface in understanding it can provide one with a window into that world. There are so many questions open to discussion with a book like this and nothing should be taken for granted. Each event like this is different as noted by the author. We cannot compare one tragedy to another but we can learn from discussing what happened here and what has happened elsewhere. Some of us know a little bit about lose of identity but generally it is a small part of our lives . Refugees are an everyday thing in our country now and there isn't much understanding of what it is like to try and survive in these countries. I was very happy that I decided to read it.
Power Reviewer
Beverly D. (Palm Harbor, FL)

Powerful memoir...a MUST read!
We no longer need to imagine the horrors of the Rwandan genocide; Clementine Wamariya has set it out for us in an astonishingly brutal examination of a life in constant upheaval as a six year old. And all of these experiences formed the amazing woman she has become today, even as she fights with the conflicts she still keeps inside. The writing grabbed me from the first page there was an immediacy and flow to this story; the back and forth from Africa to the U.S. worked well here. The break from despair in Africa (although sometimes joy)melds well with the hope in Chicago (although sometimes despair). A perfect book club selection!

Beyond the Book:
  Rwanda Today

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