The Girl Who Smiled Beads

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 24 Jul 2018

Member Reviews

I don’t normally read biographies and seems to shy away from them but with all the high rating and reviews from my Traveling Sisters and Friends I finally along with Susanne dived into this one. I am really glad I did.

I went into this one not knowing much about the Rwandan genocide and Clemantine Wamariya really opened my eyes up to the reality of these horrific events and what it was like escaping those events. The story goes back and forth in time and at times I found it confusing and I struggled a bit with following the story. A good part of the story is Clementine and her sister’s journey, struggles and how they adapted from one environment to other. I could feel their struggles to stay alive, fight to stay clean and healthy and never giving up on that even when she was so tired of it all. 

I really appreciated how open and honest the story was written and I could feel Clementine's anger and bitterness as she tried to escape her past never looking for sympathy but just wanting to find her place and feel and be treated like a human after witnessing such inhuman cruelty and conditions. 

I highly recommend this very emotionally and honest story of two sisters struggling to find their way through such horrible conditions from refugee camp to another and finally come to be reunited with their parents.

Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for a copy to read and review
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An incredibly powerful read. I read this as background for featuring it on BookBrowse. We will continue to talk up the book whenever we can, both in hardcover and paperback.
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This book is moving and educational. I learned a lot, I cried. It humanized an experience that I knew almost nothing about.
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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.
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The aftershocks and effects of war on sisters Clemantine and Claire are horrifically detailed in this sensitive novel. Displaced and wandering Africa for 6 years after the Rwanda brutalities, the sisters end up in asylum in the US. Well written.
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Heartwreching and authentic.  I could not put this book down.  You get a real life look into how the Rwandan wars affect the life of two sisters split up from their family, running for their life to a refugee camp that is not much safer.  The author was very open with her relationship with her sister which was strained by the hardships they went through and with her parents and siblings which was distant.  She also had a hard time relating to her American classmates and their “problems” went compared to what she went through.  A great book makes you see what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes and this book did this and much more.  

I gave this 5 stars on Goodreads and Amazon.  

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration.
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I loved the back and forth of this memoir. the writing was amazing. What an amazing journey she went through
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I was expecting a much a deeper connection with such a powerful topic and a personal story!

Though I enjoyed the story in general it was hard for me to fully connect with it.

3.5-star

What to expect? 

-	Powerful relevant topics
-	Interesting facts
-	Impeccable writing 

However, also expect ...

-	LOTSA of telling
-	Events told in a somehow dispassionate and emotionless way
-	Uneven pacing due to Dual timeline that 

Even though I totally understood Clemantine’s emotions the writing and the voice came out too angry and choppy and it was hard for me to connect with Clemantine and her story. Also there is a lot of irrelevant stories, telling and very few dialogues and the dual timeline disrupted the pace and flow making it hard for me to remain interested.
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Socks officially knocked off! 

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: 

“When I was a regular child, I lived in Kigali, Rwanda, and I was a precocious snoop.” 

A few pages later she says: 

“My days were filled with the indignations of being young and spoiled.”

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: 

“You know those little pellets you drop in water that expand into huge sponges? My life was the opposite. Everything shrunk.”

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

“My thoughts and senses became jumbled. Time felt hot. Silence was dizzying. My fear was bright blue.” 

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, “I was whoever anybody wanted me to be.” 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. 

Look at what this book did to me! 

-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.) 

Look at what this book made me do! 

It made me go all multi-media! Colors, music, videos, and my hands on a drum. (Consider this the multi-media room in the Joy Jar): 

-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.
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My Thoughts: Wow! The Girl Who Smiled Beads is everything at once: a heartbreaking, terrifying story of war and genocide and an inspirational story of a girl fulfilling her destiny. Clemantine Wamariya’s memoir smoothly alternates chapters between the six years she and her sister, Claire, wandered Africa in search of safety and a place to call home, and the years after they gained refugee status in the United States. This dual timeline kept both parts of her story in balance.

At only six years old, Clemantine and her 15-year old sister fled their home, their country to escape the war and massacres that were ravaging Rwanda. Clemantine was too young to truly understand, but she was not too young to feel terror and grief at losing the only life she had known.

“I never learned the right words in Kinyarwanda. I hope they don’t exist, but without words my mind had no way to define or understand the awful sounds. Nowhere to store them in my brain. It was cold and green and wet and then bushes and my legs were shaking. And, eyes. So many eyes. My thoughts and senses became jumbled.”

I found both Clemantine and her sister Claire to be remarkable. Claire wasn’t the mother substitute that young Clemantine longed for, but she was a powerhouse at keeping the two of them alive. Every country they fled to, every new camp they made a home in, Claire found a way to make money. They never had much, but Claire kept them alive and moving toward safety. Along the way, Claire picked up a husband that she wished she hadn’t, and gave birth to two children also falling under the wing of her protection. It was Claire who got them to America, where Clemantine thrived and Claire struggled.

In The Girl Who Smiled Beads Clemantine Wamariya laid bare the lifelong wounds of war and how little most of us will ever truly understand them. It’s easy to know of wars happening on the other side of the world, but it’s much more difficult to truly open our eyes and see the human side of the horrors. With sadness, anger, humor and hope Clemantine Wamariya has managed to shine a light on war and on its survival. I highly recommend, The Girl Who Smiled Beads.
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This is the powerful and poignant memoir of a young girl as refugee and survivor of the Rwandan massacre. This is not a graphic horror story, but a thoughtful exploration of how this young girl evolves into a young woman in the U.S. White privilege, body image, soul searching and Oprah Winfrey factor in so that there is connection on many levels. The narration changes as Clemantine matures, evolving as she does from random child like observations to philosophy of Sebald. A wonderful book that has my mind and sense of soul whirring. There is much to offer many readers.

Copy provided by the Publisher and NetGalley
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5 brave, bold stars to The Girl Who Smiled Beads! 

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!
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The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After is destined to become a modern classic. It is that powerful. It is that important.

The book is beautifully written, raw, stark and haunting. It tells a young girl's insider view of the Rwandan genocide and her experiences as a refugee before coming to the USA. Wamariya does an excellent job of absorbing the reader, taking us with her as she learns about the many different cultures of the 7 African countries she journeyed through on her way to settling in the US. Seeing America through her eyes and her pain, is equally riveting. 

Wamariya is full of questions, anger, bitterness, and fear. How can anyone who has lived her life not be? No one who has not lived through the types of experiences described in The Girl Who Smiled Beads can ever hope to come close to understanding the horror of her experiences. I think the mind tends to protect and deceive itself in some ways. Even grasping the sheer numbers of the genocide is hard to fathom. But this young girl, who hates to be called brave or courageous, (because she feels accepting accolades diminishes the ones who died and the fact that she could've died just as well as lived at many points) IS brave and IS courageous in bringing her story into the light and letting us realize how insulated we are from the horrors which have happened, and which continue to occur all over the world.

READ THIS BOOK!! Let me say that again - READ THIS BOOK! As a human on the planet, you owe it to those who have suffered and are suffering, in the hopes that acknowledging what is happening, and working together we might be able to help stop it, or at least help those affected by it.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for allowing me to read this amazing book. I shall never view life in the same way.
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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.
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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. 

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?

**I received a digital copy of the book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Heart wrenching eye opening look at the life of a genocide refugee .Her life in America adjustment fitting in Amazing the bravery the strength this young woman has, #netgalley #crownboojs
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THE GIRL WHO SMILED BEADS by Clemantine Wamariya is one of the best memoirs I’ve read recently. It is about the author’s experience living as a young refugee following the Rwandan genocide. These incredibly harsh memories are interspersed with the “after” — several years later when she is living in relative privilege in America. The stark difference between her life as a refugee and her life as a scholarship winning, Oprah mentee is obviously a huge source of discomfort for Wamariya. And really it should be for all of us. Definitely recommended!
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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.
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The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya is a must read. I actually want to shout that sentence out loud: PLEASE READ THIS BOOK. The Girl Who Smiled Beads is a memoir of genocide, survival, and learning to live again, reconciling life events and the trauma associated with them. I’m never going to be able to do this book the real justice that it deserves in this review, so I just want to preface it again with: please just read it.

Clemantine was 6 when the Rwandan genocide started in 1994, and her parents sent her and her 15 year older sister Claire to their grandparents as a way to keep them safe. When the murderers came knocking on their grandparents’ door the girls managed to get away, creeping through the fields, and then running, running, running for days. Those days became years. They made it out of Rwanda and into a refugee camp in Burundi, the first of several camps they would stay in in different African countries before finally making their way to the US as refugees. Claire always pushed on, fighting to create a home wherever they ended up, fighting for their survival, and for a better life. At times they would find themselves in more secure surroundings, in Zaire or South Africa for example, but the war in Zaire forced them back on the run again. These were children running from machete-wielding normal people driven by hatred and blood. Lives ruined by death, but lives also ruined by just having to survive every day, every hour, every minute. This is why I think that everyone needs to read narratives like Clemantine’s. If we don’t we will never really understand.

Today Clemantine is a storyteller, a public speaker, and a human rights advocate, and The Girl Who Smiled Beads was written with the help of Elizabeth Weil. The Girl Who Smiled Beads jumps seamlessly between different countries in Africa, before genocide Rwanda, during, in different refugee camps (in extremely dire conditions), living with Claire’s husband Rob’s family in Zaire, and then living in the US, spending her teenage years alone in an American family, while visiting her sister at the weekend.

There are so many areas in the narrative that stuck out for me, for example when Clemantine recounts being on Oprah, the whole story really left me feeling so uncomfortable. Reading about it from Clemantine’s perspective really struck a chord with me: grandiose American/Western gestures are strange, somewhat inappropriate, even when the initial thought is one of kindness. I think there is so much more education needed in this country on how easily genocide can occur, and how we can effectively help people, countries, in a much better way than has been done up until now. In The Girl Who Smiled Beads Clemantine actually clearly explains her problem with the term “genocide” and it makes so much sense: a dry term used to make the actual meaning more palatable to those who will never have to come anywhere near it. I also think that Clemantine vividly shows us a lot of important reflection on how we deal with trauma and the importance of letting others express their trauma and pain in ways that work for them.

I don’t know if one can ever heal from something as traumatic as genocide. I don’t think we can expect anyone to heal from it, move on, or even forgive, even if forgiveness seems to be a sign of “moving past it all”. I don’t understand why anyone would ever in their right minds ask a survivor if they feel guilty about surviving. And I don’t understand why we still refuse to learn about the causes of the hatred that drives the killing en masse of other people. We say never again. But it continues to happen right under our noses. How many of us really knew about Rwanda more than in passing before Hotel Rwanda was released?

Clemantine is so brave, and so honest, and I thank her for this memoir, and hope that it will be read and reread, and also read in schools, because it is a narrative that we all need to read, absorb, and talk about.

There is a very, very important lesson about sharing in this book that I have taken to heart and will be sharing with my own children. I think the idea that sharing, rather than giving, creates equality is so powerful.  

 The Girl Who Smiled Beads will be published by Crown Publishing/Penguin Random House on April 24, 2018. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy!
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This was an absolutely AMAZING and moving memoir that has certainly left me changed. I cannot wait to add this to my non fiction section of my classroom library. Books like this resonate once again how powerful the written word can be and how a raw and deeply moving narrative can reach not only our hearts, but leave imprints on our soul.
 Clemantine, you are a beautiful soul and courageous to put into words your very personal journey. The challenges that you, your sister, parents, and other family members have faced and continue to face. You're a true teacher.
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