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

I found it difficult to finish this book - not because I did not like it. The emotions seeps off the pages in leaps and bounds and I found it to be such a moving read. I will definitely getting a hard copy for my library!

I received this book from Penguin's First to Read. This book is both heart-wrenching and triumphant. Wars are complicated messes especially when it gets to the real people on the ground who are affected by high level decisions made in offices. Their journey is excruciating, yet important to read. The voice of refugees cannot be ignored especially in the currently political climate in which we all live. Highly recommend.

This book is an amazingly powerful memoir written by a woman, Clementine, who had to flee ethnic killings in Rwanda with her sister when she was just 6 years old. She experienced so many horrible people and tolerated unbearable living conditions for over six years. Then she emigrated to the US where she led a much better, safer, happier, privileged life. She amazingly achieved so much--she went to Yale University and is now an advocate for refugees and women around the world. This a moving and fascinating book, well worth your time! DO not miss it! 5+ STARS!!!

"Every human life is equally valuable. Each person's story is vital. This is just one." What a memoir. Clemantine tells her story unapologetically, as it is. She does not try to make heroes or villains out of herself or anyone: people are people, capable of good and terrible evil, of compassion and pain. That she survived every step of the way is a remarkable indicator of her fortitude and persistence. Her story is a hard one, but it needs to be told, to be heard, not as the voice of the Rwandan genocide, but as a single voice among the millions of voices of those affected and afflicted by the violence.

"Its strange, how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee." This Advanced Reading Copy by Penguin Random House of The Girl Who Smiled Beads, is a powerful memoir of Clementine and her sister Claire. Clementine and her sister Claire lives were perfect until the Tutsis declared war with the Hutu. This led to the Rwanda Civil War and lasted for 100 days. For seven years, Clementine and Claire roamed the earth to find a place where they could call home. Clementine narrates the story from a refugee's experience in America and her thrive to identify and adjust after loss. I will say it took me a while to read this book. There is so much pain and emotions throughout every experience and chapter. Overall, I will say I enjoyed the read and recommend it to anyone interested!

This book resonates with emotion -- terror, anger, bewilderment, gratitude, love -- which Clementine navigates as she relates her horrific past as a Rwandan refugee (at age 6) to life in Chicago, IL. The honesty of her writing shines all through the book. This is not a victim's story. It is the story of two resourceful woman (Claire is outstanding) who did not become two of the million Rwandans killed in the genocides of the 90's. It was also a history lesson. Clementine relates how the Belgium/European eugenics policy fostered the genocide. Once again, creating racial discord ends in unbearable tragedy. As a grandmother, I want to use Clementine's mother's test of the oranges for my own grandchild. Our world would be a better place. I hope everyone reads this book.

This book was extremely powerful and riveting, to say the least. For someone who doesn't know a great deal about the Rwandan genocide, this memoir was an eye-opener. The book has alternating chapters, with one taking place in the past and the other taking place in the present. Through this, we piece together how Clemantine gets to her present point in life. We also see how she struggles to form an identity, how she struggles to live with her past and the way it stripped her of a "normal" childhood.  Not only do we see Clemantine grow up and struggle, her thoughts and feelings change the reader's own perspective. Her ideas and emotions really resonated with me and it made me rethink my own opinions on genocide, on politics, on humanitarian efforts, and how the world works. I don't want to say more without ruining anything, but this memoir is an impactful read and well worth the effort. It is powerful, it is thought-provoking, it is heart-wrenching. For those reasons, I'm giving it a 5/5 stars.  Thank you to the First to Read program for this eARC in exchange for my honest review.

I have been thinking about how to write a review of this book. It is hard to say that I enjoyed it just because of the subject of the book and the fact that I believe no one should ever have to go through any of that. I think what I liked about this book is that it is the story of a woman who is still trying to come to terms with her childhood. So often it is a story about someone who has fully moved past their past. This book was so real with regards to that.

Clemantine perfectly narrates her story as a war refugee. This may not just be her story, but the story of any other child or adult who is affected by war.

I've been trying to read more books about Africa in the last few years. Though difficult, I will certainly recommend this book to my friends in the future. A harrowing story that really helped me expand my perspective.

When Clemantine was a young girl, the war in Rwanda broke out forcing her and her teenage sister, Claire, on a perilous escape across several African countries. They faced hunger, abuse, poverty and frightening refugee camps in order to stay alive. Ultimately, they ended up in the United States and after reconnecting with their family, on Oprah, Clemantine is forced to come to terms with the who she is and what she has survived. This book excels at presenting the "after." Her thoughts and feelings while dealing with seemingly well-intentioned Americans prove that no one can really understand what a war refugee is going through internally. I received a digital ARC of this book through NetGalley.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is a memoir of Clemantine and her sister Claire during the Rwandan Genocide. Clemantine is six years old when her and her older sister are sent away in the middle of the night. They arrive at their grandparents home where they are only safe for a short time before they are running for their life's. They do finally arrive in the U.S. after years of surviving on their own. I recommend this book, it's sad but a must read.

Wamariya has a strong voice, and she tells a powerful story. Her story alternates between past and present, between her time as a refugee in Africa, wandering the continent, and her time in America, trying to fit into upper middle class white suburban teenage life. Each time she changes her setting, I was reminded of the jarring injustice that both of these things are going on at the same time in our world. We have refugee camps where people worry about being forgotten, about being seen as less than human, about forgetting themselves. We have comfortable homes with indescribable waste, luxury, and trust. Since Wamariya intersects both of these worlds, she must be a shape-shifter, not sure of her own identity, trying to analyze and then meet expectations wherever she goes. This is a stunning account not of the Rwandan genocide, but of what being a refugee can do to someone, what knowing both poverty and plenty can do to a psyche. Wamariya was a small child during the Rwandan genocide, and so this isn't a book about what happened and when in that country. Instead, it's about her refugee experience, fleeing first one conflict then another, never quite sure what's going on, never safe, always running. Her older sister marries a violent man who then becomes another thing they are running from. Then she travels to the U.S., where she is continually told she is safe and she can't believe it. The most gut-wrenching part of the narrative is how hard Wamariya is on herself. How she looks back and sees what the fear and mistrust made her do. How hard her sister worked and yet how estranged and alone they felt, though they were together. How she appreciated the help of strangers and yet learned not to trust it. How she still struggles with flashbacks, fear, and uncertainty, even as she is seen as successful, whole, and inspiring. And also how absurd the constructed narratives of the conflicts she lived through allow journalists and historians to superimpose logic on fundamentally illogical events. A remarkable book that I will recommend over and over again. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

Clemantine Wamariya and her family lived in a prosperous neighborhood in Kigali, Rwanda. At the age of six, her life was filled with school lessons, play dates, and looking forward to treats that her father would give her after dinner. Then suddenly, her life was irrevocably changed when the Rwandan genocide began. Her mother sent Clemantine and her older sister, Claire, to live with their grandmother. But as the killings began to spread, the sisters were forced to flee with only the clothes on their backs. Their journey as destitute refugees took them through seven countries before being offered the chance to immigrate to the United States. Clemantine’s childhood was shattered as she witnessed brutality, cruelty, and horror daily, and many times faced starvation. The experience left her physically and emotionally scarred. In her honest and heartbreaking memoir, Clemantine reveals the difficulties she encountered as she tried to assimilate into American culture- a problem that she still finds herself facing. Clemantine was given opportunities to attend Ivy League schools, appeared on the Oprah program, was befriended by Elie Wiesel, and has been a public speaker on the topic of refugees and survivors of genocides. Her sister has not been as fortunate. Claire, who protected and tried to care for Clemantine during their ordeal, is a single mother who struggles to make ends meet. Clemantine is slowly trying to rebuild her life. But despite all the opportunities she has been given, she still finds adjustment to be difficult. The Girl Who Smiled Beads sheds light on the experiences of survivors of war and genocide, especially the experiences of women. It is a heartbreaking story but it is also a much needed aid in understanding the feelings of refugees. Thank you to First to Read, Crown Publishing, division of Penguin Random House, and author Clemantine Wamariya for giving me the opportunity to read the ARC of this powerful memoir.

This was a very compelling book. I normally don’t even read meaty books. But, this one really piqued my curiosity. I enjoyed it immensely. It’s incredible how this young girl survives such turmoil and the anguish she goes through. Words just cannot discribe this story alone. You must read it for yourself. Amazing book about an Amazing woman.

This book will stay with me for a long time. A harrowing read; but I would still recommend it.

This is an amazing book--one that bears witness to unbearable loss, including the loss of any coherent story, and importance of trying to put that narrative back together again, no matter how tattered the result. The result is astonishing. This is a personal history, an assembling of stories; it is also a book that shows in its very style the scale of the damage done by the trauma Clemantine has lived through. Some early reviewers have complained about the book’s structure and the way it moves around in time. I found this one of the book’s most convincing features, as it struggled to put into place a narrative and life that is lacking so many vital connections that most readers forget support themselves. It’s a life in constant motion, across many countries and languages. Of course there are gaps. It is only fair that readers struggle as Clemantine does to put the impossible and inexpressible into some kind of story—that we also work to make something whole out of the pieces left behind. I think this quote sums up what the book is trying to do, and how hard it is to confront and assemble these memories, better than anything I can describe. Clemantine writes "I had been so absorbed , as a young child, in knowing the world, and then I'd lost the whole world that I knew. In the years that followed I worked to piece that world back together but the idea of one group of people killing another group of people--people they lived with, people they knew--this chunk of knowledge could never fit itself into my mind. It was categorically, dimensionally, fundamentally wrong. It was like trying to store a tornado in a chest of drawers. That was not how the universe worked.”

It’s so easy to be complacent, not ever realizing what an easy, peaceful life one has, complaining about minor irritations like traffic lights or the way a barista misspells your name. Meanwhile, Clemantine Wamariya has experienced more suffering and heartache than I can possibly imagine. A survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Clemantine is an excellent narrator and offers a firsthand look at the atrocities of war. Because she was a young child when forced from her comfortable life, her perspective is particularly moving. I think it is important to read books that remind us of the dehumanizing treatment of our fellow human beings in the world, and this book is a good place to start. I received an advance copy of this book from Penguin’s First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

This is a hard book to review. I can never judge Clemantine's story or the horrible circumstances that she lived in. Some of the situations she describes are hard to imagine and I think it's important that more people read narratives like this. One can never truly understand what Clemantine went through, but this book does provide a small taste. You can see the anger and hurt that she still deals with today. This book is at times very raw and I appreciated the honesty with which she told her story. I do think that he book could have been structured in a way that made the book even more affecting. The story is not told in a linear fashion, which worked rather well at times. However, there were some moments that were a bit confusing to me. It was difficult to follow the timeline of her refugee story, especially when she was still in Africa. I do wish there had been more self reflection, though I can't fault her for not including this. I would have loved to know more of her thoughts during and after the Oprah episode, specifically the struggles of her family essentially being strangers. She does delve into this a bit, but I feel like there was a lot of untapped emotion here. At the end of the day, I would've liked more.

There's no doubt that Wamariya's journey has been challenging and incredible, and I appreciate the searing emotional rawness in which it is told. However, the chosen presentation made engaging with the material very difficult at times. I would have preferred it if the story had been told in a linear fashion rather than jumping back and forth in time; there needed to be no narrative tricks at play here for the tale to make an impact. Upon seeing the timeline at the beginning of each chapter, I often had to remind myself of where in time I was with regard to Wamariya's life, which became frustrating. This is a vital refugee story that deserves to be told, but I wish the end result had been stronger.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is at heart a story of a girl. A girl who was forced to face tragedy and loss that is incomprehensible to those of us raised in security. A girl who, so often, had no choice about what happened to her or how to respond to it. A girl, from whom, so many opportunities and dreams were taken. The author, Clemantine, told her story so succinctly and starkly. She did not add excessive sentiment to soften any of the blows. Deciding to move back and forth from present to past added to its power by contrasting privilege and privation. You could feel her hunger, her fear, her despair, but also her hope and joy. Her story is so timely. It reminded us of the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide couched not in sterile numbers but in flesh. Her depiction of going back and experiencing the remembering is almost unbearable. How does a people or a country move on? How does it forget? How do neighbors become neighbors again after such barbarism? You want it to be fiction but it is not. I admire Clemantine for being willing to revisit all those memories. She opened a door of awareness for the teeming masses that still wait in refugee camps from so many parts of the globe today. It is a timely story that tells a history that we must not forget. I received this book to read through Penguin's First to Read program.

Clemantine Wamariya was 6 years old in 1994 when the Rwandan genocide occurred. She fled accompanied only by her 15 year old sister Claire. This book is both the story of their six year journey through Africa trying to survive and find a safe place, and their disorienting landing in the United States as refugees. Clemantine understandably struggles to adjust to life in the US with the explosion of plenty and privilege, diametrically opposed to the life of violence and want during her previous six years. During a time when dangerous rhetoric about refugees and immigrants exists, it is more important than ever to try to understand the stories and lives of those affected by war and violence and why we must not only embrace those who need safety but try to help prevent such violence and displacement in the first place. This book is searing and vital. I am better for reading it and hope it becomes widely read. I would love to see Clemantine in a governmental role regarding refugee and immigrant policy. We need voices and life experiences like hers to shape our understanding of and interaction with our world.

Clemantine Wamariya was only six when war forced her to flee her home in Rwanda in the 90s, accompanied only by her fifteen year old sister. Believing their family was dead and in search of food and safety, the sisters spent six years in refugee camps and journeying through seven African countries before finally ending up in America. They endured horrific conditions and lived constantly with hunger and fear of violence. Once in America most of their basic needs were met, yet the emotional scars of what they survived ran deep and they both struggled in their own ways. Wamariya alternates her story between her refugee experience in Rwanda and life afterwards in America. It's heartbreaking anybody has to suffer in this way, but particularly difficult to read about a young girl surviving a war. Wamariya doesn't sensationalize her experience; her writing is straight forward and unadorned and simply tells her story. What I think is a strength of this book is her writing about life as a refugee in America and what happens afterwards. We all see the pictures and videos of what refugees endure in their journeys and camps, but it's harder to "see" the emotional damage and pain. Wamaryia effectively conveys these struggles by opening up about her experiences. Although Wamariya's particular experience as a refugee started in Rwanda in 1994, her story is very relevant to our present day. Wamariya's story is worth to read for her own individual experience (and she is careful to point out that there is nothing special about her, there are scores of individuals with stories) and also worth a read as a way to delve deeper into the stories behind the refugees we see in the news daily. 4/5 stars.

Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her life changed forever. In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, were forced to leave their family behind and flee their home country as the Rwanda massacre raged on. They spent the next six years as refugees in multiple African countries until they were able to come to America. Clemantine was given a home with an affluent white family and she attended a private school, got involved in extra curricular activities and eventually went on to study at Yale. Meanwhile her sister worked long and hard to provide for her three children. This is the heartbreaking but remarkable story of two young girls forced to figure out how to survive on their own. I am so glad the author chose to share her story with the world as the Rwanda genocide is not something that should ever be forgotten. The book is raw and honest and incredibly manages to be tragic and uplifting at the same time. The courage of both Clemantine and Claire is amazing as they constantly were facing life and death situations. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys nonfiction books or who are interested in learning more about the Rwanda genocide and the devastating effects it had on innocent lives. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance copy!

Thank you to First To Read and Penguin Random House Publishers for the ARC of this emotional memoir, The Girl Who Smiled Beads. It’s about the Rwanda genocide. The journey of a very brave six year old girl (and her older sister) who some how survived this atrocity is just heartbreaking, emotional and unimaginable. I’m not sure how to review such a story. It does need to be heard and read over and over again.....

I have limited background or experience with the struggles in Africa, but this is a wonderful, yet heart wrenching story of one girl’s walk. Clemantine Wamariya knits a compelling life story of her experience as a refugee with her sister, Claire. This books takes you back and forth in Clementine’s experiences, hurts, pains and healing from past to present. I felt the author’s pain and struggles, and yet, felt the healing right along with Clementine. I highly recommend this book on the war in Africa.

This memoir tells a story that needs to be told. Most people don't realize how easily they could become refugees. Moist people don't truly understand the suffering and the aftermath of war. Clemantine Wamariya tells the story of her life so far masterfully. She goes into just as much detail as is needed in order to get her points across. She bares her anger and pain for everyone to see. Even with all of the suffering that jumps off of the page the is also hope. Hope that Clemantine will eventually find her peace. Her story is one that will stay with you and make you realize how fortunate you are and how easily out all can be taken from you.

I remember seeing small clips of the war in Rwanda here and there on the news in 1994, and thinking, "Why isn't anyone helping? Why aren't we helping???" All these years later, I still don't understand why the world just sat back and did nothing. I can't imagine what Clemantine and Claire went through to survive- even after reading their story, but I am thankful they are here to tell it. I have hope that one day we will live in a world where we will never have to ask why again, where people will have learned from stories like Clemantine's and Claire's, and Elie's and just make all the hate stop

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is a beautifully written, heart-wrenching story of Clementine's life. Living in war-torn Rwanda, she is sent away at the age of 6 with her sister Claire, 9 years her senior, destined to spend years as refugees. Even when she and Claire are brought to America to start their life over, she has trouble acclimating to the way of life. She wants to still be a child in a place that expects her to grow up. Her scars of the past run deep and her years as a refugee has hardened her, closed her off from true human interaction. She cannot fit in, so she tries desperately to emulate those around her. To be the person people expect her to be, rather than finding a sense of self. But her sense of self is rooted in tragedy, and people are growing weary of her way of expressing it. She spends so many years trying to reconcile her feelings about the mass genocide, of why no one stepped in. While she is eventually reunited with her parents after 12 years of separation, it is stilted. No one wants to talk about the past, they want to keep it buried. Clementine cannot fathom why they do not want to compare stories, to talk about the years they were separated. She cannot connect with her parents, with these siblings she does not know. So she distances herself, furthers her education to be the best person she can. Her story is honest, heart-breaking, yet beautiful. She has come so far in life, she writes eloquently, and The Girl Who Smiled Beads is a must read.

Clemantine is a young woman going back to the childhood that was taken from her, so she is able to better understand herself. Though she had success and caring adults in her life, the horrors of her life as a refugee with her sister replayed in her mind without warning. I really was impressed with her and Claire. Claire took on a responsibility that most teenagers would run from. She made some mistakes, but her courage and determination kept her and Clemantine alive. This book is a reminder that we should all do as much as possible to assist refugees running from war and human rights violations.

This book is easily my favorite book of the year so far. Clemantine Wamaryia tells her tale in a way that draws the reader in and makes you want to read more about her journey. She is honest and gives a no-holds-barred depiction of her life as she escaped through Africa and eventually settled in the United States. I appreciate that the memoir is very objectively her perspective on what she went through and she does not attempt to postulate on the feelings and experiences of her other family members. Clemantine truly makes you want to learn more about the Rwandan massacre and the experiences of refugees in general.

This magnificent, emotionally raw memoir of perseverance and strength, takes you on a journey of survival and doesn't ever let go. Not an easy book to write a review on since it is a memoir. Powerful and dark. You can feel the anger and hope from the pages of this book. Read it on one sitting.

Finished this book a couple days ago and have been having the hardest time trying to write a review. I have so many thoughts; however, I know nothing I write will adequately convey the beauty and importance of this book. Clemantine Wamariya was only six years old when she and her older sister fled their grandmother’s home during the 1994 Rwandan massacre. Clemantine is very honest in her memoir - you can feel anger, uncertainty, and hope coming off the pages as you read them. She doesn’t need to detail the atrocities that she witnessed - they are implied through the endless ways she and her sister sought safety over seven years through seven countries and numerous refugee camps to eventually settle in the United States where the healing part of their journey begins and continues still. I will be thinking about Clemantine and her words for a long time.

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.

Oh, I have such a difficult time reviewing Clemantine Wamariya's memoir, should one be much older than 28 to write a memoir? Clemantine at 28 lived a life time, yet as she tells her readers "what is next". The title THE GIRL WHO SMILED BEADS has it's origins from a fairytale without ending, urging a child to ask what is next... Next arrived when Clemantine age 4 and her sister Claire age 15 escaped into a sweet potato field, away from family and friends, away from Rwanda and the most horrific genocide in modern times...traveling on foot from refugee camps to refugee camps, places of hunger, diseases, death. Death of body, death of spirit, death of self. Many years passed before Clemantine and Claire found refuge in the United States. Clemantine expresses with deep clarity the stigma attached to the status 'refugee' which affected her in years to come. ".....other speaking invitations followed and my talks where magic. At the end of each one people were in tears. But they understood nothing-least of all, that I wasn't special. There were so many of me, thousands, millions. I just happen to be the one standing in the room. Don't cry for me, I wanted to say. Cry for them, it will take you a hundred lifetimes to cry for all of them..." Clemantine and her sister Claire's resilience is beyond human is the resilience of so many human beings who's life is up turned by war..... I have read novels regarding the Rwandan genocide, well researched books. THE GIRL WHO SMILED BEADS Is a first hand account which should be part of every school curriculum. Thank you Penguin First to Read for this advance copy

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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