Book Review: The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

the girl who smiled beads

I was wrong. I thought this would be yet another book of a refugee who simply wanted to share her story of how she fled the Rwandan massacre at age 6 and eventually made it to America after 6 long years, and how she also managed to graduate from Yale University! “Well done!”, a congratulatory pat on her back, and all should be good, right?

Instead, this book taught me more than I’d expected. What impacted me the most were the bits about how we, as people who have never suffered the horrors of war, think we know what refugees need / want. And in giving to them, we also want to receive appreciation and their gratitude. When we meet someone like the author, whose (internal) response might be “you have no idea”, it’s a punch to the gut.

Clemantine forces me to differentiate between giving and sharing. Giving implies that I’m more privileged, more able, etc. While sharing means the refugee and me are equals. I’ve realised I’m pretty good at giving; what I no longer need, what I can spare, what I can do without. I’m not that great at sharing. (@_@)

And how brutal we all are when we ask refugees to relive the horrors by sharing their stories, made worse with our insensitive questions such as “do you feel guilty that you survived when the others perished?” As usual, Clemantine has a ready response. And it’s gold. Read the book to find out what it is. 😉

Clemantine pulls no punches. She hits you where it hurts, rips your mask of hypocrisy to shreds and grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you up.

This is a book which will definitely teach you a thing or two you never expected. And I’m glad it’s in the form of a book and not a movie. If it’s too graphic, I won’t be able to get it out of my head.

Because this book also has a co-author, Elizabeth Weil, I somehow knew it would be a decent read even before setting eyes on the first page. How much of this book is fact, and how many pages of it is fiction / imagination, I don’t think anyone knows. I cannot remember much / any of what I did as a 6-year-old. And if I had been separated from my parents because of a war when I’m 6, the trauma would have left indelible marks on my memory. Still, this book is based not so much on the author’s childhood / family history, but on her take of what happened, what should not have happened, and what needs to happen from now on. A very good read.