The Girl Who Smiled Beads

The Girl Who Smiled Beads

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After

by Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil
Published by Crown Publishing Group on April 24, 2018
Pages: 288
Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
ISBN: 0451495322
Book Rating:


Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were "thunder." It was 1994, and in 100 days more than 800,000 people would be murdered in Rwanda and millions more displaced. Clemantine and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, ran and spent the next six years wandering through seven African countries searching for safety--hiding under beds, foraging for food, surviving and fleeing refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing unimaginable cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were alive.
At age twelve, Clemantine, along with Claire, was granted asylum in the United States--a chance to build a new life. Chicago was disorienting, filled with neon lights, antiseptic smells, endless concrete. Clemantine spoke five languages but almost no English, and had barely gone to school. Many people wanted to help--a family in the North Shore suburbs invited Clemantine to live with them as their daughter. Others saw her only as broken. They thought she needed, and wanted, to be saved. Meanwhile Claire, who had for so long protected and provided for Clemantine, found herself on a very different path, cleaning hotel rooms to support her three children.
Raw, urgent, yet disarmingly beautiful, The Girl Who Smiled Beads captures the true costs and aftershocks of war: what is forever lost, what can be repaired, the fragility and importance of memory, the faith that one can learn, again, to love oneself, even with deep scars.

“The Girl Who Smiled Beads” is a memoir about a young girl who survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The plot shifts from past and present while we get a glimpse of Clemantine’s experience as a refugee in Africa and the US. This type of narrative style usually works for me but it felt a little disjointed with this one. I think chronological order would have made this particular book easier to follow.

I also (shamefully) admit that I had no previous knowledge of this war and it’s impact, which might explain why I was expecting more historical background as well.

Regardless, the book still felt authentic and necessary. Personal stories such as this need to be heard and Clemantine’s account is an important one that should be told.

Detailed Rating

This book was used for prompt #28: A nonfiction book, in the BOTM Book Club Summer 2019 Challenge

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: