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The Girl Who Smiled Beads

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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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Clemantine and her sister were separated from their family while war was ravaging their country, Rwanda.  For six years they found themselves fleeing from one refugee camp to another in Africa.  Often living in squalor with very little to eat.  Eventually being granted refugee status in American, the effects of the war are deep and there were times when I found myself angry at the Clemantine for being so angry and spiteful to anyone who was interested in her story or trying to help her.  However, no matter how I felt towards her, she was revealing her true emotions and process for how she was dealing with everything she had gone through.  No sugar coating here, she tells it as she feels it and bring you along for the ride.
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The Girl Who Smiled Beads

A Story of War and What Comes After

by Clemantine Wamariya; Elizabeth Weil

Crown Publishing


Biographies & Memoirs

Pub Date 24 Apr 2018

I am reviewing a copy of The Girl Who Smiled Beads through Crown Publishing and Netgalley:

At six Clemantine Wamariya began to hear her parents started speaking in whispers, neighbors began to disappear and she heard the loud ugly sounds her brother tried to convince her was thunder. In 1994 she and her fifteen year old sister Claire fled the Rwanda Massacre and spent six years migrating through seven South African countries they were hungry, imprisoned and abused enduring and escaping Refugee Camps, they saw both the good and evil in people. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive.

When Clemantine was twelve she and her sister were given refuge status in the United States. In Chicago there lives diverged though they always remained close. Claire was a single Mother now, struggling to make ends meet. And Clemantine was taken in by a family who treated her as their own. She seemingly lived the American Dream becoming a cheerleader, attending private school even graduating from Yale. The years of hunger, abuse and terror could not be erased. She felt like a six year old and a hundred years at the same time.

Clemantine provokes us to look beyond the label of victim and transcend even the most profound injuries and aftershock.

I give The Girl Who Smiled Beads five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!
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This was an intense read. This is a book where the author poured so much of her story into the writing you can't help but be transported into the sometimes horrifying scenes, unable to believe that these events occur. Yet her story is inspirational and quite human, letting us all know we are the same even though we experience different struggles.
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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 NetGalley for this advance copy
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This was such a fascinating, engulfing, inspirational book. I have read books about the Rwandan genocide before but the way this book was laid out with the time jumps from Clemantine's journey throughout Africa and to her time spent in the United States was very easy to read. I found the writing style very enjoyable and while the topics discussed are not easy to read I found that they were told in a way that conveyed the harsh reality, but it wasn't too disturbing. Overall I really liked this book and loved the story that it told.
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This is a remarkable book with a remarkable story. Clementine fled Rwanda during the genocide at the age of six with her older sister, Clare. For years, they traveled as refugees all around the African continent. Along the way, Claire marries and has children, and eventually make their way to the US. The narrative splits between their life as refugees in Africa and their life following arrival in the US.  Clemintine’s perseverance, hard work, good luck, bad luck and privileges are interwoven in this well-drawn narrative. In particular, I appreciate how raw her anger, how frustrating her ambivalence comes across on the page. This is a book that will stick with me for a great while.
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Very poignant account of a survivor.  Made me really think about how to react to those whose lives have been so difficult.  She weaves back and forth between her journey here in America and her tragic childhood.
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I found this book to be such a harrowing and realistic tale of the refugee experience. I feel like her story could right a lot of stereotypes about how people came to be displaced. I loved the way she linked the story her nanny told her to her current life. I also liked how she is still coming to terms with her family relationships. This book kept me enthralled for a long time. .
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Amazing, heartwarming, emotional and raw. This novel is a true testament to survival and bravery. 
Switching between past and present, Clemantine retells her memories of surviving the genocide in Rwanda. 

There are no words that could do this one justice!
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Clemantine Wamariya has written a heartbreaking account of her survival of the Rwandan genocide and how she overcame a tragic young childhood, mostly through her own strength and fortitude. She put into words how she was feeling during her journey with her sister, and also how it was for her when she came to the US as a young refugee. I liked how she went back and forth between chapters about her escape from danger and then what it was like to arrive in the United States and begin a life for herself with all of the luxuries of her new country. I recommend this book for anyone who would like to learn more about the genocide of the 90s in Rwanda. I could not put the book down and finished it in 4 days.
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What i loved about this book was that it was a complete portrait of the lives of those who suffer under the inhuman conditions of war. We don't just see that war part, but also we get a glimpse into what happens after the war. Just because they are now, free and safe in America means very little. They are so traumatized by what they have witnessed that it often takes generations to change.
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This book starts with Clemantine Wamariya's appearance on Oprah but quickly gives readers the understanding that what we see isn't always what is going on. At a time when immigration and welcoming refugees is a hot topic in many countries, this book shows how the trauma of war and displacement lingers for a lifetime. Clemantine was displaced by the conflict in Rwanda as a child and migrated through 7 different countries before being granted asylum in America at the age of 12. She candidly discusses what it is like to be a stranger in a new land, the harsh treatment that refugees face, and how one never truly escapes what they ran from. This is her searingly honest story and is eye-opening as to the struggles that refugees face years after finding safety in their new countries.
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How do you review someone's life story? As others have mentioned in reviews, I think The Girl Who Smiled Beads has a great potential to quickly become required reading for high school and/or college students. Too often when a tragedy occurs, only the people who were most affected by it keep it at the forefront of their memory and live their daily lives differently based on what happened in those moments. Clementine Wamariya had seven years of those life-altering moments, which obviously affected the way she lived her life in the United States as a teenager and young woman after everything she and her older sister had experienced in Rwanda and the surrounding countries during a time of great turmoil and tragedy. It's a beautifully written book that keeps Clementine and Claire's story as the priority and explains all of the historical facts and cultural references as needed.
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I gave this book 5/5. This book touched my soul. I don't know what else to say. Words cannot express the lessons that this book has taught me. Wonderful Job!!!
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This book should be required reading, especially for those who consider refugees to be a drain on society. Clemantine and her sister Claire were living a comfortable life with their mother, a devout Catholic, and father, a successful businessman, when war turned them overnight into refugees. Fleeing  the Rwanda genocide, they wandered through eight African countries, in and out of dismal and inhuman refugee camps, across dangerous lakes and rivers, and finally to the United States. Clemantine found a generous Chicago family and community to support her and help her gain a top-notch education. She ends up a guest on the Oprah show and becomes a well-respected international speaker. But, at heart, she remains a refugee—fearful, untrusting, broken. 

The book is co-authored by New York Times writer Elizabeth Weil and the two work well together in general. It is strongest at the beginning, when Clemantine tells the story of her escape, but it feels a bit scattered by the end. This could be because that's what Clemantine is—scattered across two continents and multiple families, her body safe but her soul fragile and damaged. 

All in all a beautiful but heartbreaking work on the destructive power of hate and war.
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This is the story of two sisters who escaped the Rwandan genocide and eventually reunited with their family on the Oprah show. The author, Clemantine Wamariya, reveals how she and her sister traveled across Africa to live in a variety of refugee camps staying alive any way they could.

Clementine tells her story from a very young age when her family breaks up and she and her sister, Claire, are left on their own. They both end up in the U.S. and are given substantial help. Clementine lives with American families, attends school, and becomes a sought after speaker all the while trying to come to grips with her past and present.

Well written, informative, and eye opening. Clementine's story is one of bravery, personal strength, and optimism.
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