The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

The Girl Who Smiled Beads

Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

Raw, urgent, yet disarmingly beautiful, The Girl Who Smiled Beads captures the true costs and aftershocks of war.

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“The plot provided by the universe was filled with starvation, war and rape. I would not—could not—live in that tale.”
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 migrating 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 refugee status in the United States; there, in Chicago, their lives diverged. Though their bond remained unbreakable, Claire, who had for so long protected and provided for Clemantine, was a single mother struggling to make ends meet, while Clemantine was taken in by a family who raised her as their own. She seemed to live the American dream: attending private school, taking up cheerleading, and, ultimately, graduating from Yale. Yet the years of being treated as less than human, of going hungry and seeing death, could not be erased. She felt at the same time six years old and one hundred years old.
In The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clemantine provokes us to look beyond the label of “victim” and recognize the power of the imagination to transcend even the most profound injuries and aftershocks. Devastating yet beautiful, and bracingly original, it is a powerful testament to her commitment to constructing a life on her own terms.

Advance Galley Reviews

This was a really interesting read. I actually remember watching the Oprah episode where Clemantine and her sister are reunited with their family who they hadn't seen since they left Rwanda. I can't imagine all the things Clemantine and many others like herself had to endure during the most formative years of life. Its a tragic story and unfortunately things like this still happen today. I hope her story and others like it brings awareness and shines a light on refugees and their displacement because those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

This was a fabulous memoir by a Rwandan refugee.  I vaguely remember hearing about the troubles over there when I was in college.  The author, Clemantine, talks about how at the age of six, her and her older sister, Claire, had to escape from Rwanda and leave their parents behind.  What ensues is seven years of wandering, hunger, and pure survival. I was afraid this book would be graphic and hard to read but thankfully, the book focused on Clemantine's struggle with healing and feeling worthy of a new life in America.


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