Summary and book reviews of The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Elizabeth Weil

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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Apr 2018, 288 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A riveting story of dislocation, survival, and the power of stories to break or save us.

Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were "thunder." In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years wandering through seven African countries, searching for safety—perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive.

When Clemantine was twelve, she and her sister were granted asylum in the United States, where she embarked on another journey—to excavate her past and, after years of being made to feel less than human, claim her individuality.

Raw, urgent, and bracingly original, The Girl Who Smiled Beads captures the true costs and aftershocks of war: what is forever destroyed; what can be repaired; the fragility of memory; the disorientation that comes of other people seeing you only as broken—thinking you need, and want, to be saved. But it is about more than the brutality of war. It is about owning your experiences, about the life we create: intricately detailed, painful, beautiful, a work in progress.

Excerpt
The Girl Who Smiled Beads

The night before we taped the Oprah show, in 2006, I met my sister Claire at her apartment in a public housing unit in Edgewater, where she lived with the three kids she'd had before age twenty-two, thanks to her ex-husband, an aid worker who'd pursued her at a refugee camp. A black limo arrived and drove us to downtown Chicago, to the Omni Hotel, where my sister used to work. I now can't think about that moment without also thinking about my own naïveté, but at the time all I felt was elated.

I was eighteen, a junior at New Trier High School, living Monday through Friday with the Thomas family in Kenilworth, a fancy suburb. I belonged to the church youth group. I ran track. I'd played Fantine in the school production of Les Misérables. I was whoever anybody wanted me to be.

Claire, meanwhile, remained steadfast, herself, a seemingly rougher bargain. Unlike me, she was not a child when we got resettled in the United ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 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 (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).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (712 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Not quite as attention-getting as memoirs by Ismail Beah or Scholastique Mukasonga, but a powerful record of the refugee experience all the same.

Booklist

In her prose as in her life, Wamariya is brave, intelligent, and generous. Sliding easily between past and present, this memoir is a soulful, searing story about how families survive.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This book is not a conventional story about war and its aftermath; it’s a powerful coming-of-age story in which a girl explores her identity in the wake of a brutal war that destroyed her family and home. Wamariya is an exceptional narrator and her story is unforgettable.

Library Journal

Starred Review, This beautifully written and touching account goes beyond the horror of war to recall the lived experience of a child trying to make sense of violence and strife. Intimate and lyrical, the narrative flows from Wamariya’s early experience to her life in the United States with equal grace. A must-read.

Author Blurb Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Extraordinary and heart-rending. Wamariya is as fiercely talented as she is courageous.

Author Blurb Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide; Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
Wamariya is unsparing in her criticisms of Western indifference and moral presumptuousness, and she subjects her own judgments and values to the same withering scrutiny, revealing a young woman that figures out how to survive but struggles to learn how to live. Her gripping and brutally honest reflections inspire us to count our blessings and summon us to follow her fierce and unrelenting example to try to help build the world we wish to see.

Reader Reviews

Sue

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 ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Rwanda Today

Many of us remember reading about the events that Clemantine Wamariya experienced as a six year old girl in Rwanda in 1994, when over barely 100 days, Rwanda's Hutu ethnic majority went on a rampage, brutally murdering the ethnic Tutsi minority. The state-sponsored slaughter, the culmination of at least 30 years of unrest, ended in July 1994 when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a group primarily composed of ethnic Tutsis under Paul Kagame's leadership, took over the government ending the slaughter that had taken more than 800,000 of the 7 million population. From that time on, Rwanda largely fell out of the news for most of us. So, here is a brief recap of events since then:

A view of contemporary Kigali, Rwanda's capitalRwanda was in a terrible state immediately ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Girl Who Smiled Beads, try these:

  • We Need New Names jacket

    We Need New Names

    by NoViolet Bulawayo

    Published 2014

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America

  • Running the Rift jacket

    Running the Rift

    by Naomi Benaron

    Published 2012

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Running the Rift follows Jean Patrick Nkuba, a gifted Rwandan boy, from the day he knows that running will be his life to the moment he must run to save his life, a ten-year span in which his country is undone by the Hutu-Tutsi tensions.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Electric Woman
    The Electric Woman
    by Tessa Fontaine
    In 2010, author Tessa Fontaine's mother had a near-fatal hemorrhagic stroke, leaving her with a...
  • Book Jacket: The Female Persuasion
    The Female Persuasion
    by Meg Wolitzer
    A college freshman struggling for identity. A 1960s feminist icon attempting to maintain her ...
  • Book Jacket: A Lucky Man
    A Lucky Man
    by Jamel Brinkley
    If his debut collection of short stories, A Lucky Man is any indicator, Jamel Brinkley is poised on ...
  • Book Jacket: Picture Us In The Light
    Picture Us In The Light
    by Kelly Loy Gilbert
    Kelly Loy Gilbert presents a beautiful narrative with myriad intertwined plotlines that explores the...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Harbor of Spies by Robin Lloyd

A captivating thriller-at-sea set in Spanish colonial Havana in the 1860s.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Other People's Houses
    by Abbi Waxman

    A hilarious and poignant novel about four families and the affair that changes everything.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Comedown

The Comedown by Rebekah Frumkin

A blistering dark comedy that explores delineating lines of race, class, religion, and time.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Wouldn't T H W A T-F P

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.