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.

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