Ah, my April Book of the Month selection. While I love fiction, I’m fascinated by the stories of people who go through something major and live to tell about it from a level-headed state of mind. The author Clemantine is, no doubt, forever changed by her experiences, but her sharing of them in this book is brave and enlightening. There were other decent April options over at Book of the Month, but I knew even before this one was in my hands this would be a good book.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads
by Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil
Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, The Girl Who Smiled Beads is the true story of Clemantine and her sister, Claire, as they fled the Rwandan genocide. Clemantine was 6 (Claire 15) in 1994 when the genocide began and her family urged the sisters to leave in order to save themselves. They migrated through seven African countries in six years, escaping war, seeking safety and growing up too soon. Clemantine shares her unique perspective on the journey as a child who’d experience so little before her world fell apart and her eyes were opened to the brutal violence and inhumanity of war. At age 12, she makes her way to the US where she finds safety, but she’s forever changed, having left her family behind, having lost out on a childhood and having seen too much.
Survival, true survival of the body and soul, requires creativity, freedom of thought, collaboration. You might have time and I might have lands. You might have ideas and I might have strength. You might have a tomato and I might have a knife. We need each other. We need to say: I honor the things that you respect and I value the things you cherish. I am not better than you. You are not better than me. Nobody is better than anybody else. Nobody is who you think they are at first glance. We need to see beyond the projections we cast onto each other. Each of us is so much grander, more nuanced, and more extraordinary than anybody things, including ourselves… I’ve seen enough to know that you can be a human with a mountain of resources and you can be a human with nothing, and you can be a monster either way…
―Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil, The Girl Who Smiled Beads
Awards (based upon my brief research):
None noted yet – it’s brand new, but this is another one I guarantee will begin to bring in the awards soon.
My Overall Rating:
5 – This is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. Like, when I finished it, I just want to give it a lingering hug. Clemantine’s honesty and commitment throughout the re-telling of her experiences in the Rwandan genocide and as a refugee are inspiring. She covers her story from every angle, making the reader really see and feel what she saw and felt in a time incomprehensible for those uninvolved. This is the type of story-teller I aspire to be.
On top of how well written the book is, what struck me hard is this: While Clemantine was 6 and fleeing the Rwandan genocide, I was 4 and being American. When she was 12 and being infiltrated into American society, parentless and only really knowing a life of fleeing, I was 10 and surrounded by friends and family I’d grown up with my entire life, having only lived in one house and spending my time competing in gymnastics for fun. We graduated high school the same year, yet she went on to Yale and is changing lives by the re-telling of her story. I truly believe she survived the genocide to change lives.
I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s the first book in a long time that I took in so deeply and cherished so fiercely that it felt like I was eating or inhaling it.