The Girl Who Smiled Beads

The Girl Who Smiled Beads

A Story of War and What Comes After

Book - 2018
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"A riveting story of dislocation, survival and the power of the imagination to save us. 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."-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: Toronto :, Doubleday Canada,, [2018]
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9780385687003
Characteristics: 274 pages :,map ;,22 cm.
Additional Contributors: Weil, Elizabeth 1969-- Author


From Library Staff

Best Memoir & Autobiography

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Nov 19, 2020

About the Rwanda genocide.

Oct 20, 2020

This book was beautifully and vividly written, but it is largely about the inadequacies of words and storytelling to capture horror. It took me as close as I’d want to go to being a refugee. Especially a six year-old Rwandan refugee who didn’t know a trip to Grandma’s was going to become a living nightmare for seven years. She is alive thanks to her resourceful older sister, although resourceful is a terribly inadequate word for what Claire is. The way the book is structured: alternating her life running in Africa and her life trying to outrun the damage once in the US is effective. The book certainly confounds the kinds of mythologies we cling to about refugees and highlights the rarely-discussed aftermath of such trauma (there are surprising echoes of Tara Westover’s years in university trying to process her childhood). It is also the only personal account I have read of sexual violence and predation to which female refugees are particularly vulnerable. Her adult life to date is trying to process her unfathomably appalling experiences, and unfortunately for her, she’s not the type who can turn to faith or tell herself stories. She is a truth seeker, and it is exhausting, harrowing work to have such a personality and try to make sense of surviving what she did. The greatest gift this book offers is it’s unflinching resolve to look honestly at herself and those around her, and resist the easy attractions of simple explanations, typecasting and happy endings.

Jan 12, 2020

Rwandan genocide memoir. Great reviews. Short.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Oct 28, 2019

Powerful memoir of a woman who survived the Rwandan genocide when she was a young girl. This one will stick with me.

Oct 26, 2019

I have wondered how people who survived Rwanda and who survive being in refugee camps go on with their lives. This book answered my questions. I was exhausted while reading about her walking, walking, walking, through all these countries. I was hungry while they went days without eating, thirsty when they had no water. I didn't even want to imagine the open sewers, being treated like less nothing.
I couldn't imagine what it was like to go to a completely different country and try to fit in and act like nothing happened so as to keep her place in a home and a school so that she would have a roof over her head and not be hungry again. Her introspections will help me learn about myself.
She and her sister's journey and survival are amazing and will help me get through whatever I need to get through day by day, year by year.
I thank her for sharing her story and wish everyone who makes decisions about invading countries would read this book.

Mar 05, 2019

Author writes memoir of her and her sister’s experience during the Rwandan Civil War of the 1990s. She is a young girl; her sister a teenager. After years as refugees in Africa, they come to Chicago to re-start their lives.

The intriguing book title pulled me in; it comes from a folktale. Both girls are fierce survivors, admirable. Their American lives are such contrasts, hard for me to reconcile. Will be thinking about Claire and Clemantine for a long time.

BPLpicks Jan 21, 2019

Clemantine was just six when she and her 15-year old sister were forced to flee the massacre in Rwanda; they were displaced throughout Africa for six years until they attained refugee status in the USA. Clemantine's story is harrowing, perhaps more so because we see these experiences through the eyes of a child who does not fully understand the events she is caught in. I found this book hard to put down; I was invested in Clemantine’s journey and its effects on her life in the USA and admired her honesty, strength and insight.

ArapahoeKati Dec 26, 2018

Devastating. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Unputdownable. Must read if you like memoirs.

Dec 02, 2018

I loved getting to know Clemantine Wamariya through her autobiograpical book. Through this heart wrenching depiction of her life story Wamariya leaves herself vulnerable by sharing her true self with the world. This book is a gift.

At the same time there are no words to describe how saddened I am at the horrific childhood this woman had. One of so, so many people are subject to this experience. How could this be someone's true story? How can the world become a better place for everyone?

Nov 02, 2018

Rec'd by Alicia

View All Comments

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability
Dec 02, 2018

toni_brinsfield thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

May 23, 2018

Mya614 thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at my library

To Top