Monthly Archives: September 2018

The Girl Who Smiled Beads, by Clementine Wamariya and ElizabethWeil

“The Girl Who Smiled Beads,” is a book unlike anything I’ve ever read. The author, The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes AfterClementine Wamariya, took me into a world I could never imagine would exist in our modern lives. Her memoir is about how she narrowly escaped the genocide in Rwanda, an unbelievable and heartbreaking story.

When Clementine was only six years old, she and her sister, Claire, had to escape from their family home. Without the help of an adult, they traveled to seven different countries, stayed in refugee camps, and faced starvation for years. What these two young children endured goes beyond anything most people can ever imagine. Throughout the entire time, they had no idea whether their family back home was alive or dead.

Before reading this book I admit that the Rwandan war was something I didn’t know a whole lot about. Although it was an incredibly significant event in African history in which an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed, it fails to receive the kind of attention one would expect from such an atrocity.

The book alternates timelines from when Clementine was a refugee and her time in the US. This works well as it helps to illustrate her contradicting identities.

I think back to this often in trying to make sense of the world—how there are people who have so much and people who have so little, and how I fit in with them both.”

One of the things that stuck out to me was that Clementine felt like she was losing her childhood and her personal identity the longer she was away from her home. At one point she talks about how she was upset that she was losing her baby teeth which were then replaced by permanent teeth.  It was like a part of her was lost forever. This theme of changing identity continues throughout, as she moves from country to country and then ultimately to America.

I felt like this book was so powerful and honest. Clementine doesn’t hold back when she talks about her anger and she describes herself as a difficult person to love. I imagine it’s much the same for many people who have had to endure traumatic events in their lives.

I would absolutely recommend this book because it is an amazing memoir that shows the strength and endurance of the human spirit. Clementine’s firsthand experience as a child who escaped the only home she knew and then lived for so long as a refugee was a story I will likely never forget.

Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo

Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo

By: Boris FishmanDon't Let My Baby Do Rodeo

In his second novel, “Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo,” Boris Fishman builds a story around a young couple, Alex and Maya Rubin, who are both immigrants from Eastern Europe. Maya, who grew up in Kiev, Ukraine, came to the United States as a medical student, though she had a strong passion to be a chef. Alex came over from Belarus when he was a young child with his mother and father. After an extremely short courtship, Alex and Maya get married and decide to start a family. Unfortunately, they are unable to have children naturally, so they agree to adopt a child. This is a reluctant decision since both Alex and his parents believe that adopted kids are like second class children. Yet, they decide to adopt nonetheless, provided that it’s a closed adoption, and they will have no contact with the biological parents.

A baby is eventually placed with the Rubins, and they name him Max (which is meant to be a mishmash of the names “Maya” and “Alex.”)  Max was born from two teenagers from Montana who drive all the way to New Jersey to personally deliver the baby to the Rubins. Along with the baby comes an ominous message from Laurel, Max’s biological mother, who adamantly stated, “Don’t let my baby do rodeo.”

Fast forward 8 years later when Maya and Alex discover that Max is unlike any other child. He chews grass, he runs away, refuses to sleep in a bed, and could easily be considered feral. Distraught, the Rubins go on a mission to seek answers and help their child. In an act of desperation, they agree to go on a road trip to Montana to find Max’s birth parents and figure out why Max is the way he is.

Despite the story line revolving mostly around Max’s adoption and his new, strange behavior, the main character in the book is not Max, it’s Maya. The story comes from her point of view and most of the insights discovered throughout the story are more about her than of Max. She’s described as a woman in her mid forties who never fought for her dream of becoming a chef. Her marriage is no great love affair and at one point she even questions whether she married Alex for love or for US citizenship. She’s afraid to drive and has never left New Jersey since coming to the United States. It’s obvious that she has desires but she lacks the confidence to fulfill them.

Throughout the book, Maya is overprotective of herself and of her son. This is evident in the amount of times she and Alex conceal the truth from Max. They never tell him he’s adopted; they lie to him about why they are bringing him to a therapist and also why they are traveling to Montana. It’s as if they are trying to protect him from reality. This may also be another way of Maya protecting herself.

I won’t give away the conclusion except to say that Maya eventually finds what she needs. But it may not have been specifically what she was looking for or what she expected.

“Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo” is a heartfelt, often funny, novel that defines what it means to be a family and ultimately what it means to belong.