The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
Published by: Windmill Books
Release Date: 2019
Genre: Nonfiction; Memoir
Source: Review Copy
When Clemantine Wamariya was six years old, her world was torn apart. She didn’t know why her parents began talking in whispers, or why her neighbours started disappearing, or why she could hear distant thunder even when the skies were clear.
As the Rwandan civil war raged, Clemantine and her sister Claire were forced to flee their home. They ran for hours, then walked for days, not towards anything, just away. they sought refuge where they could find it, and escaped when refuge became imprisonment. Together, they experienced the best and the worst of humanity. After spending six years seeking refuge in eight different countries, Clemantine and Claire were granted refugee status in America and began a new journey.
Honest, life-affirming and searingly profound, this is the story of a girl’s struggle to remake her life and create new stories – without forgetting the old ones.
There’s never been a time I read a memoir and wished it was fiction as much as when I was reading Clemantine Wamariya’s story. However, even as fiction “The Girl Who Smiled Beads” would have still been just as harrowing and difficult to digest.
Clemantine Wamariya begins her story with the televised reunion of her family in 2006 on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. A family that had been separated for over 10 years due to the civil war in Rwanda.
At the age of 6, Clemantine is yanked out of normalcy and finds herself fleeing her home with her sister, Claire. Claire is a teenager through the 6 years that they move from one distressing situation to another. But her spirit and survival instincts are unmatched when left to her own devices with a child to look after. Clemantine, on the other hand, is a child trying desperately to find anything passing as normal to cling on to.
“The Girl Who Smiled Beads,” tells a story of conflict, with the external impacting the internal in ways we don’t like to imagine. Such that by the time Clemantine is physically removed from the war and the poverty it caused her family, finding peace was a struggle.
It feels wrong to say that I enjoyed this memoir, even though it was gripping from the start and very easy to read. Clemantine Wamariya’s voice commanded my attention and demanded that I pay attention to her truth.
There are no pretences in this account, “The Girl Who Smiled Beads” is as human as humans can be. There’s a bitter honesty in describing the tension as a child unable to appreciate the efforts of her caregiver. A child who is desperate to cling to any semblance of normalcy. The helplessness of not being in control of your own fate. And the general mistrust as a teenager when things seem better but you can’t allow yourself to settle into it.
Highly recommended. I believe in the importance of getting out of your own world view and appreciating the lived experiences of others. “The Girl Who Smiled Beads” is not for the faint-hearted but is a truth that deserves to be heard. Read it.