• Publication date: 26 Apr 2018
• Publisher: Cornerstone Digital
• Language: English
The second book I’m reviewing in memoir week on my blog is The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and co-author Elizabeth Weil.
My ARC review copy was from the publisher via NetGalley
Clemantine Wamariya was a young child of six when she was separated from her parents at the outbreak of a bloody civil war in Rwanda.
Along with her sister Claire, who was twelve at the time, the two girls had to leave their comfortable home and life in Kigali and had no option but to travel miles alone, often on foot across Rwanda to refugee camps and holding centres. They barely managed to exist in often appalling conditions.
From there they overcame great difficulties to cross borders into other parts of Africa, before eventually emigrating to America. Oprah Winfrey featured their story on her show and reunited them with their parents, the first time they’d seen them for decades.
The book is a powerful read and the author pays full tribute to her older sister’s entrepreneurial skills at earning funds along the way at each stop to fund their needs and also those of Claire’s own children. Along the way Claire married an aid worker Rob who treated her very badly and they had two children together.
The overall insidious effect on Clemantine, separated from her parents and just existing as a homeless and stateless refugee throughout most of her life becomes clearer with each chapter.
Although fostered by an understanding couple after arriving in America and going through the school system and then onto university there wasn’t a sense of actually belonging anywhere, or even knowing how to act or just be. Clemantine felt as though she needed to be whoever the person she was with wanted her to be.
When other students are taught about war and the ravages of war, she becomes angry with them for not truly understanding the subject and what she and other refugees have to live through and endure.
Subsequent visits back to her homeland had varying effects on Clemantine and stirred up powerful emotions each time.
Topical at the moment. The book made me think a lot about the state of mind of refugees and how the terrible suffering they’ve endured can affect them very badly and manifest itself in ways that probably only they themselves can really comprehend.
I remember being aware of the horrors of the Rwandan civil war as portrayed on our TV news channels by reporters at the time. The sanitised version of course. For tea-time viewing.
A nursing acquaintance of mine had volunteered with an overseas voluntary medical aid group and had been working in an operating theatre when men yielding machetes had broken in. She ended up traumatised and recovering in a Swiss clinic
This was a fascinating and deeply impassioned heart-rending read and one that will stay with me. It will undoubtedly be one of THE books of the year.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Clemantine Wamariya is a storyteller and human rights advocate. Born in Kigali, Rwanda, displaced by conflict, Clemantine migrated throughout seven African countries as a child. At age twelve, she was granted refugee status in the United States and went on to receive a BA in Comparative Literature from Yale University. She lives in San Francisco.
Elizabeth Weil is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor to Outside magazine, and frequently writes for Vogue and other publications. She is the recipient of a New York Press Club Award in feature reporting, a Lowell Thomas Award in travel writing, and a GLAAD Media Award for coverage of LGBT issues. In addition, her work has been a finalist for a National Magazine Award, a James Beard Award, and a Dart Award for coverage of trauma. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two daughters.