The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After

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 s...

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Title:The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
Author:Clemantine Wamariya
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Edition Language:English

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After Reviews

  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

    The Girl Who Smiled Beads has been the memoir I’ve most anticipated reading this year, and when I finally got to it, it was just after reading a fictional account of the genocide in Rwanda, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt, which is definitely a favorite of mine. The Girl Who Smiled Beads was a fitting complement to In the Shadow, and I experienced on a more visceral, individual level the pain, fear, sacrifice, and absolu

    🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

    The Girl Who Smiled Beads has been the memoir I’ve most anticipated reading this year, and when I finally got to it, it was just after reading a fictional account of the genocide in Rwanda, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt, which is definitely a favorite of mine. The Girl Who Smiled Beads was a fitting complement to In the Shadow, and I experienced on a more visceral, individual level the pain, fear, sacrifice, and absolute terror experienced by Clemantine and her family.

    This book is easy to read due to the exceptional writing, and I found it hard to put down; however, at times, I had to in order to absorb the abject torment suffered by Clemantine and her sister, Claire, from fleeing practically barefoot across multiple African countries to digging bugs out of the soles of their feet.

    This is Clemantine’s story, how she shares her anguish, horror, loss, and despair, and in turn, how she claims her individuality and begins to heal. This book is important, urgently so given what is happening in our world right this very minute, and raw and stunning at the same time. Highly recommended for fans of nonfiction, memoirs, cross-cultural works, and profoundly emotional writing.

    Thank you to Clemantine Wamariya, Crown Publishing, and Netgalley for the ARC. The Girl Who Smiled Beads is available now!

  • Angela M

    4.5 stars .

    I read very few memoirs, but felt I should read this one after recently reading a novel about the Rwanda genocide which made me realize of how little I knew of it. In this book, we are exposed to it head on, with excruciating honesty . So many people killed but what about those who escaped? This book focuses on the story of one family, about how two young girls ran from the murderers and endured horrible conditions in refugee camps. Clementine at six years old is sent by her parents

    4.5 stars .

    I read very few memoirs, but felt I should read this one after recently reading a novel about the Rwanda genocide which made me realize of how little I knew of it. In this book, we are exposed to it head on, with excruciating honesty . So many people killed but what about those who escaped? This book focuses on the story of one family, about how two young girls ran from the murderers and endured horrible conditions in refugee camps. Clementine at six years old is sent by her parents from her home with her older sister Claire to family in hopes of remaining safe . But the men appear there too and they must run. The narrative alternates between her present as a teenager in an American school and moving from one refugee camp to another, from one country to another until the sisters are granted asylum along with Claire’s husband and child. For me the format felt somewhat disjointed and the back and forth from present to past was confusing. However, it seems to illustrate how it was for her .

    “Often still, my own life story feels fragmented, like beads unstrung. Each time I scoop up my memories, the assortment is slightly different. I worry that I’ll forever be confused.”

    “My past receded, grew washed- out, jumbled and distorted. I could no longer discern what was real and what was fake. Everything, including the present, seemed to be both too much and nothing at all. Time, once again, refused to move in an orderly fashion...”

    This is difficult to read as Clemantine struggles to find a way to heal and move forward. That involves moving back to what happened. This is an impactful telling, depicting the refugee experience in ways that we may not think about. It’s easy to think how lucky they are, how lucky to be alive, giving not much thought perhaps to the trauma they have experienced, the displacement, the identity crises each one may experience, the loss of home and perhaps family.

    “The word genocide cannot tell you, cannot make you feel, the way I felt in Rwanda. The way I felt in Burundi. The way I wished to be invisible because I knew someone wanted me dead at a point in my life when I did not yet understand what death was.

    ..... “ I recommend you read this memoir to see the rest of what Clementine has written about genocide and see for yourself the strength that she embodies. I recommend it because while this is a story of this one person and her family, it provides much to think about - what happened in Rwanda and about what happened during the Holocaust and what is happening in places in the world today.

    I received an advanced copy of this book from Crown Publishing through NetGalley.

  • JanB

    5++ stars

    I had plans for today but first I decided to sit and read for an hour. Many hours later, I closed the last page of this book. I simply could not put it down until I had read every word of this powerful memoir.

    Clemantine was born into a comfortable middle-class family in Rwanda. At age 6 she and her older sister were forced to flee the ethnic killings. She spent the next 6 years moving from country to country, from refugee camp to refugee camp. Life in the camps was living in filth, infe

    5++ stars

    I had plans for today but first I decided to sit and read for an hour. Many hours later, I closed the last page of this book. I simply could not put it down until I had read every word of this powerful memoir.

    Clemantine was born into a comfortable middle-class family in Rwanda. At age 6 she and her older sister were forced to flee the ethnic killings. She spent the next 6 years moving from country to country, from refugee camp to refugee camp. Life in the camps was living in filth, infestations with lice and burrowing larva, dysentery, constant hunger, lack of sanitation and proper nutrition….living a horror we cannot even begin to imagine.

    At the age of 12, due to her sister’s resourcefulness, she immigrated to the U.S., living a life she could never have imagined. She ultimately graduated Yale University, has been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show and now speaks and advocates for refugees and women around the world. But inside she remains broken, trying in her words “to string all the beads in the right order, situate them in the right light – I can create a narrative of my life that looks beautiful to me and makes sense.”

    This book is her struggle to come to terms with all she endured: the separation from her parents at such a tender age, the loss of everything, the constant fear and hunger, the abysmal conditions in the refugee camps, and her struggle to integrate her experiences with her life in the U.S.

    I read an interview where she says her overriding mission is to share the idea that every single person on the planet has equal humanity. She herself has gone from feeling worthless, living in abject poverty, to living a life of privilege, but inside nothing about her has changed. She says she is every one of those people and so are we. After reading her book, I have to say she has succeeded in her mission.

    Nothing I can say could possibly do the book justice but I’ll end this review with her thoughts on a couple of subjects that made me stop and take note (please remember this is from an uncorrected proof):

    Her thoughts on the word “genocide”: “I resent and revile it…the word is tidy and efficient. It holds no true emotion…it cannot do justice – it is not meant to do justice – to the thing it describes. It cannot describe how she felt knowing someone wanted her dead at an age when she didn’t even understand death. It can’t explain a child playing dead in a pool of his father’s blood. The experience of a mother forever wailing on her knees. It cannot explain the never-ending pain, even if you live. You cannot bear witness with a single word”.

    On forgiveness: The world said “never again” after WWII yet turned their backs during the Rwandan atrocities. To those who say forgive and forget, she has poignant words on why that is impossible. “It’s not enough – plans must be made on how to never repeat these crimes in the future. Our minds can be poisoned – poisoned so gradually that we don’t even realize we’ve become sick.” I learned a lot about the root causes of the Rwandan killings and they are chillingly similar to the tactics of Nazi Germany. The author herself read and re-read Elie Wiesel's book, Night, which helped her begin to open up and speak.

    Publication date is April 24, 2018. Buy it, borrow it...whatever you do, read it! How can we even begin to understand if we don't expose ourselves to books such as these?

    ** edited to add: the story is not a linear one and the author changes time periods abruptly with no warning. This has bothered some reviewers, but for me, I found the story so strong and compelling I was willing to overlook it.

    **I received a digital copy of the book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  • Cheri

    Even at the tender age of four, Clementine was precocious, demanding the truth of things that the adults in her life felt were beyond her years.

    Even at the tender age of four, Clementine was precocious, demanding the truth of things that the adults in her life felt were beyond her years.

    And then her world changed. Life changed, although she didn’t know why, didn’t understand what the changes meant. Family, friends stopped coming over, her family stopped going out. The electricity stopped working, and next the water stopped working.

    At six years old, she and her older sister Claire are sent to their grandmother’s home, her parents wanting them to be further away from the need to be silent, the need to avoid being found. Eventually, even that proves not to be safe enough to prevent them from being found. Their grandmother tells them to crawl on their bellies through the fields, until they were far enough away to run.

    In part, this is the story, her story, of the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide, the story of how she and her sister managed to survive in this horrific time. Walking, endlessly walking, countless days, living in camps now and then, and more walking, more searching for their family, for a life that included more than barely existing – eventually, they found a way to another life. And they head to America. And, yes, their life improves compared to what they endured, but they still struggle.

    This wanders back and forth in time, which may make it more difficult to follow, but I appreciated this – I couldn’t imagine reading the story of their time when they were running, fearing for their lives without some respite, a glimpse of their future. Hope. Having said that, it does interrupt the flow, but, for me, that didn’t disrupt my interest in this story.

    A heartbreaking, inspiring and beautifully shared personal, real-life story.

    Highly recommended.

    Many thanks to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!

  • Debbie

    Best book I’ve read this year, hands down, and it goes on my all-time favorites list. Intense, upsetting, sobering, this story got under my skin in a big way. I can’t stop thinking about, I can’t stop talking about it.

    One day Clementine is playing happily with her siblings in the yard of her comfy and loving home in Rwanda, the next day she and her 15-year-old sister Claire are running for their lives.

    Chapter 1 opens with this:

    Best book I’ve read this year, hands down, and it goes on my all-time favorites list. Intense, upsetting, sobering, this story got under my skin in a big way. I can’t stop thinking about, I can’t stop talking about it.

    One day Clementine is playing happily with her siblings in the yard of her comfy and loving home in Rwanda, the next day she and her 15-year-old sister Claire are running for their lives.

    Chapter 1 opens with this:

    A few pages later she says:

    And then the war started. Her parents started whispering, and they snapped at the kids. Their happy faces now showed only worry. Her brother told Clementine that the gunfire was thunder, and she had no reason not to believe him.

    But she did know her life was changing:

    Once she and her sister started their escape, she said:

    Stats: Their search for safety spanned six years and seven African countries. Just mind-boggling that they wandered so long and so far. They didn’t walk the whole way; they went by bus and by boat sometimes.

    At the beginning of the book, there’s a map. I must have stared at that thing 20 times. Yes, I became pretty obsessed with trying to imagine their journey, and I was incredulous that they had traveled so far. (I knew virtually nothing about which countries were where in Africa. Now I feel like I could not only name the countries in southeast Africa, but I could also put them on a map. This from a person who pretty much hates maps and confesses to being directionally impaired.)

    I kept trying to put myself in her shoes—walking a gazillion miles in the heat, fighting for food so she wouldn’t starve, living in deplorable refugee camps, surviving illness, seeing dead bodies and hearing the wounded moan. And she did all of this without the help and love of her parents or brother, whom she dearly missed. How does a kid survive such a thing? One of the images that sticks in my mind is Clementine pulling out bugs that had taken up residence in her feet. And there are many, many more images that made me shudder.

    The beauty of this book is that the author makes you see her journey through the eyes of her six-year-old naïve self. Clementine wasn’t able to comprehend exactly what was going on, and she didn’t understand death. When she saw dead bodies in the water, she thought they were people sleeping. All she understood was that for some awful reason she had to run away from her family, and she was hungry, tired, scared, and homeless.

    Eventually she and her sister ended up in an alien universe: America. Imagine the culture shock! Not only did she end up in outer space, she ended up on the Oprah show! Kind, rich white people took her in and sent her to good schools.

    She was so blown away about her experience, so traumatized, she didn’t know how to act. She said,

    Her relationships with her family and friends are tough. She has two scars on her legs, which embarrass her. I’m sure she has plenty of scars on her psyche. I’m beyond impressed that she never acted like the victim, only like a survivor. Clementine is incredibly self-aware and is great at describing her psychology, which gets big points from me.

    This isn’t just a journalist’s report full of facts; Clementine infuses her story with lots of emotion. Every sentence grabbed me; I felt like I was right there. Every emotion was loud and real.

    This story ends well. Clementine graduated from Yale, she became a successful activist, she has a good, rich life. But still, her scary life as a young girl running away from her war-torn country will always be a huge part of her. She can never shake it off.

    The book alternates between her journey in America and her harrowing journey in Africa; I liked the format. For those who hate gore, don’t worry—there isn’t any. Although what she went through is way worse than depressing, her story of survival is uplifting.

    One of those fun woo-woo moments: I had just added Austerlitz to my To-Reads when I ran across Clementine talking about the book, which had a profound effect on her. Love these universe synchs!

    Here is how this book seeped into my soul and took up residence.

    -Didn’t want to break the spell by reading another book.

    -Not enjoying my new book; seems so frivolous in comparison.

    -Still thinking about the book, LOTS.

    -Peddling the book to everyone I know.

    -Had a nightmare, where there was a chemical cloud approaching and I was trying to prepare myself to die. (I hardly ever have nightmares, especially not end-of-the-world nightmares.)

    It made me go all multi-media! Colors, music, videos, and my hands on a drum.

    -Put a picture of colorful Rwanda baskets into my photo library.

    -Checked out Airbnb in Rwanda just to see houses. I wanted to imagine her life there.

    -Checked out images of Rwanda’s beauteous hilly landscapes. (Defies my assumptions of how Africa looks.)

    -Urgently plan to watch “Hotel Rwanda” again.

    -Memorized the map of southeast Africa.

    -Still referring to the map showing Clementine’s route (wonder when I will stop, lol).

    -Watched the Oprah video three times; shared it twice. Probably not done the repeat.

    -Listened to African drum music.

    -Added Paul Simon’s song “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” to my playlist for the car.

    -Watched Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” video.

    -Played my conga drum (hadn’t touched it in years).

    -Am writing lists like this.

    “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” by Paul Simon, is currently my favorite song ever. It’s on the album called Graceland that he created in the 1980s along with other songs with an Africa focus and rhythm. The album was made a good ten years before the genocide and it’s all happy and bright. I couldn’t help thinking that the girl with the diamond shoes could have been Clementine before the war--rich, happy, sassy. But instead of wearing those shiny, expensive shoes, in reality she had only bugs on the soles of her feet—and they were feasting on her skin. Anyway, the song got under my skin and ended up being stuck in my head. I guess you could say that the book took the same route.

    I’ve gone on way too long, but I just can’t stop myself. This book made me think not just about her story, but about genocide. More than 800,000 people were killed in that massacre. How is it possible that human beings could do this to each other? Incomprehensible.

    I’m in awe of this writer in every way possible. Not only is her journey phenomenal, her writing is beautiful. Kudos to her co-writer as well.

    Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.

  • Jen

    So hard to write a review on a memoir especially of one where a girl has survived a brutal

    Genocide in Rwanda.

    Even when she arrives in the U.S as a refugee, the years of trauma unravel even once she has landed in a war free zone. The fears still remain- the difficulty trusting, the inability to forget, the fear of being abandoned. For years Clementine and her sister travelled to 7 countries to escape the death.

    Now this is her story of the aftermath of survival. The darkness that continues to inv

    So hard to write a review on a memoir especially of one where a girl has survived a brutal

    Genocide in Rwanda.

    Even when she arrives in the U.S as a refugee, the years of trauma unravel even once she has landed in a war free zone. The fears still remain- the difficulty trusting, the inability to forget, the fear of being abandoned. For years Clementine and her sister travelled to 7 countries to escape the death.

    Now this is her story of the aftermath of survival. The darkness that continues to invade her spirit; her life. And the recovery that is still shaping whom she is to become.

    4⭐️

  • Diane S ☔

    4.5 The genocide in Rawanda, another subject that I knew little about. I knew it happened, knew it was a terrible atrocity, saw bits and pieces on the news, but that's about the extent of my knowledge. Now after reading this memoir about a young girl who experienced this herself, I know more. Clemantine was only six when she and her older sister, Claire were told to run. They did and for a long six years they went from place to place, camp to camp, faced starvation, horrible and unsanitary camp

    4.5 The genocide in Rawanda, another subject that I knew little about. I knew it happened, knew it was a terrible atrocity, saw bits and pieces on the news, but that's about the extent of my knowledge. Now after reading this memoir about a young girl who experienced this herself, I know more. Clemantine was only six when she and her older sister, Claire were told to run. They did and for a long six years they went from place to place, camp to camp, faced starvation, horrible and unsanitary camp conditions. Always fearing that her sister who refused to give up would leave her, finding her too much of a burden, but Claire never did. Not even when she marrys an aid eorker and has children of her own.

    After those long six years, both sisters, with husband and children in tow were given permission to enter the US. A land they had heard marvelous things about, but the Clemantine who was, is now a completely different person, her experiences have hardened her. She feels alone, not seen, not understood. And indeed how can those who have not suffered as she understand?

    "This---Rwanda, my life---is a different, specific, personal tragedy, just as each of those horrors was a different, specific tragedy, and inside all those tidily labeled boxes are 6 million, or 1.7 million or 100,000 lives destroyed.

    You cannot line up atrocities, like a matching set.

    You cannot bear witness with a single word."

    This was said in a response to people making the comparisons of Rwanda to the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia or the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. It is true, we can be empathetic, we can try to understand but can we really, when we only read words, watch the movies? We can't, we can't feel what it is like to live through something like this, to feel the disconnection between a new life and what one has suffered. She makes her struggles perfectly clear, but she does move on though always questioning, always anslyzing how she feels, how she thinks. She and her sister forge different paths, their will be some victories, quests, steps taken, personal losses but she never stops trying.

    A moving, powerful story, a story about resilence and survival,but also about the toll taken on the human pysche after living through such horrific times.

    ARC from Edelweiss.

  • Elyse Walters

    “The word genocide cannot articulate the one-person experience—the real experience of each of the millions it purports to describe. The experience with a child playing dead in a pool of his father’s blood. The experience of a mother forever

    wailing on her knees”.

    “The word genocide cannot explain the never-ending pain, even if you live”.

    Clementine Wamariya shared personal stories of when she lived in Rwanda during the civil war from when she was five years old....stories with her sister Claire.

    “The word genocide cannot articulate the one-person experience—the real experience of each of the millions it purports to describe. The experience with a child playing dead in a pool of his father’s blood. The experience of a mother forever

    wailing on her knees”.

    “The word genocide cannot explain the never-ending pain, even if you live”.

    Clementine Wamariya shared personal stories of when she lived in Rwanda during the civil war from when she was five years old....stories with her sister Claire.....the time they spent with their grandmother...the years of fleeing and the horrific conditions of the refugee camps—having lost their parents in the process.

    At age 12...Clementine and Claire 21, pregnant, and her children, were all granted asylum in the United States....this story begins with a story about Oprah reuniting Clementine & Claire and their parents.

    All these stories — piercing in your gut —the war -the American adjustment - and Clementine returning to her home wanting to give back and the challenges she faces right away of mistrust are important stories to read -

    This is a true story — written from a very caring and courageous girl - with amazing resilience and clear purpose of what her life is about.

    Having read “What is The What” by Dave Eggers years ago ....a story about a “Lost Boy” ....a victim of the Sundance war...and his life as an immigrant in America— this wasn’t the first time I’ve felt the horrendous tragedy mixing children with war.....

    ANOTHER BOOK I HIGHLY RECOMMEND.....

    But the difference for me in ‘this’ book ....my one critique—I felt the storytelling/ writing was too jarring. The chapters flipped back and forth between the American and African stories too quickly for a short book - it was a disruptive flow of taking in the past and present experiences.

    It’s still a somewhat pet peeve of mine....the often new style of writing we see so often — POV— and flipping stories back and forth. I ‘prefer’ the story to blend and flow as one story. I’m trying to get use to it - as so many books today are written in this fashion.....but it’s never my favorite.

    5 stars for Clementine and the story that needed to be told.

    3 stars for the writing...

    4 stars overall.

    Thank You Jennifer. As soon as I read your wonderful review, I started reading the book less than an hour after. Thank you!

  • Lola

    It’s hard to review this book, because this is not a book that was written to be reviewed.

    This written work, in itself, is a review. Clemantine is reflecting upon her past, presen

    It’s hard to review this book, because this is not a book that was written to be reviewed.

    This written work, in itself, is a review. Clemantine is reflecting upon her past, present and future, but especially her past with her sister Claire. How does one review another person’s life?

    Normally, I have no problem discussing memoirs, and offering my thoughts on them, but I have not been through anything remotely similar to what Clemantine has been through.

    I have never lived through war. I was never a refugee. I am not black. I don’t know what it’s like to live estranged from my mom. I don’t know what it’s like not to have a home. I thought I did. When my family and I came to Canada, we stayed at our cousins’ house for a month, and I didn’t feel welcome. But that’s NOTHING compared to what Clemantine has been through.

    So I cannot comment upon her lived experiences, because I know that would be wrong. I have no right to do that. I have no right to tell her she should have done this or that differently, or offer my opinion on the war that ravaged her life when I don’t know enough about it to do so.

    But what I can do is tell you what this book has taught me. It has taught me that our educational system is flawed, because never has a high school History teacher told me that colonization is life-shattering. I learned that later on. Now, I don’t know if that’s because my History high school teachers were mainly men and white or maybe they weren’t allowed to use such strong and seemingly subjective terms, but I remember feeling very detached from and unconcerned about the concept of colonization.

    It has also taught me that the human species can get used to anything, and can also overcome anything. Just look at Claire, Clemantine’s sister. She started a dozen businesses, trying to survive, in a world where women are commodities—possessed, disrespected, raped. She never let herself believe that she is scum, even if many people gladly told her so. She persisted. She fought.

    In this memoir, Clemantine is sharing so much with us. Some of it is gruesome, some of it is nightmarish, and some of it is inspiring and beautiful.

    I have consumed this book. I have swallowed every word. I didn’t analyze, because the author does that for us, but I did consider and think and try to imagine. It was hard. It SHOULD be hard. If trying to imagine a child growing up in the midst of a war, and feeling the effects of it every second of the day, were easy, then we’d all be doomed. We SHOULD feel shocked, and sad, and impressed by these two sisters and welcome them in our hearts.

    I welcome them in mine.

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