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The Girl Who Smiled Beads: An Exceptional Tale of Identity and Genocide

I first got The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil from Book of the Month Club as an extra, since I had credits. I was immensely interested in the narrative and there were a lot of good reviews. Plus, I hadn’t read a memoir in a while so I decided to give it a shot.

Well, what is The Girl Who Smiled Beads about? I’m glad you asked. This is a memoir about Clemantine Wamariya’s life in Rwanda before the civil war broke out. It details how her life went from that of a fun-loving child to one of a refugee. When the war came close to her home at a young age, she and her older sister were made to flee, her brother and parents stayed in her childhood home. But war rarely stays stagnant and soon Clemantine and her elder sister moved again. And again. With less personal belongings, less food and less security, they walked. Just young girls at the time, the two had to fend for themselves.  The author tells of how they moved from country to country, how they changed as they aged and how they survived in the different refugee camps, the awful ones and the worse ones. Her story is one of pain and identity, how she came to the United States and met Oprah, how she somehow reunited with her parents but they were not as she remembered them. Plus, they had other children now. She tells of how she was told to be less emotional when discussing genocide, how she was a spectacle and not an individual, how she grew and yearned for friendships and family. The Girl Who Smiled Beads is a tale of identity, both the loss of it, the search for it and its reclamation.

One quote that made me think:

“You cannot line up the atrocities like a matching set.

You cannot bear witness with a single word.”

Overall Rating 5⭐

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The reason this narrative deserves this rating is because of the unedited, unwavering, untempered truth and rawness with which it is told. The author does not hold back, she tells her story with its raw and messy emotions, with the dirt and grime and cruel volatility that are an integral part of her narrative. She tells of her family and how they are, in a way, the one thing that defines her and how, in truth, she is apart from them. She discusses home and the lack thereof, how home meant so much and so little all at the same time, a seeming contradiction but in a way, making perfect sense. Wamariya is not a victim although her story is sad and we can all feel empathy. She is a survivor and her current situation doesn’t lessen what she had to go through or who it made her into. She is Rwandan and she is American, a refugee and a scholar. These things define her and yet they are not enough to define her.

There are a lot of books I enjoy, those who follow me may know about my Goodreads account and my personal reading challenge, but while I enjoy a lot of books, there are not many I would recommend to everyone. Not all books share the same audience but this memoir is one that is riveting and raging and perfect in a messy sort of way. Because of that, I feel like anyone could pick it up and enjoy it just as much as I did.

Does this sound like a book you’d pick up? Let me know in the comments. As I stated earlier, I truly loved it but I know that everyone has their own preferences. Clemantine Wamariya’s tale of growing up as a refugee and having to stay in that mindset long after she left the African continent just in case, touched me and made me think. I have always loved a story that compels me.

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Happy reading! Chyina

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