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Black author’s book review – The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

One of the most important things we should do as Black people in Western countries, that is unfortunately not enough taught in our respective communities, is the importance to support our fellow brothers’ businesses, on a frequent basis if possible. In these past few years, I learned the importance to honor my heritage, and the best way to do so is by making it a lifestyle, and I believe a lifestyle is defined by our daily consumption. You may have already heard the saying « You are what you eat ». Well, I believe it can also be applied in a larger context to « you are what you consume ». When eating out, I privilege Black-owned restaurants, consume African-related art (music, dance), read books written by Black authors, buy at Black-owned businesses, etc. As I said earlier, I do it because I like to honor my heritage, Black & African-related, and the Black history month is my favorite occasion for me to shout it out.

How I discovered it and got to read it

Recently while doing my daily task of reading news about Rwanda, a must whenever I open Google, I fell on an article with a catchy title “Du Rwanda à Yale […]” of Paris Match, a French press. My first reaction was: what the…? Who’s that main OG who went from Kigali to Yale?!? Wooow…Yale?!? From Kigali?!? Wayment…and I clicked.

This article was basically promoting her newly-translated book The Girl Who Smiled Beads, a story of this woman, then a 6-year old child, who fled the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda in 1994 with her sister, and for the next 6 years, crossed eight countries as a refugee before going to the US. As I pursued my reading, she had also apparently appeared with her sister on Oprah in 2006, where she had an incredible surprise: a reunion with her parents and younger siblings she hadn’t seen after 12 years of separation. I was sold to this book, I needed to read this incredible story that appeared to me as a fairy tale.

My love for written testimonies of the Tutsi genocide survivors

Before pursuing, there’s a confession I need to make here: The best books I’ve read so far are the stories of the Tutsi genocide’s survivors. I think this preference, as far as I can remember, comes from the love I’ve always had for true stories, but also from my curiosity of my home country’s history, and the lack of will my parents have long presented to share me their experience in those dark days. As a matter of fact, I’ve read at least 10 books about the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda in the past few years, something I surprisingly seem to never get tired of as I see in each of these stories an inspiring testimony. A way to never forget where my home country and its people went through. To know more about me, an indirect product of these awful events.

Synopsis

As I said earlier, The Girl Who Smiled Beads is a book written by Clemantine Wamariya, a 30-year-old Yale graduate who was only 6 when the Tutsi genocide started in Rwanda. It first tells, thru the eyes of her child self, the story of her peaceful childhood and family life before the events. Then how everything quickly shifted as her parents started whispering and commanded her to stay silent. One day, she will be put in a car with her older sister Claire, with whom she will spend over 6 years crossing 8 countries before finally reaching the US on a refugee status. Are intertwined with the numerous episodes of this long journey her adaptation to her new and totally different life in the US and how she coped with the long separation from her parents.

A quick review

Likeliness to recommend the book to a friend or family: 15/10. My reading experience was a bliss throughout the whole book. I enjoyed every second I spent reading The Girl Who Smiled Beads. Let me explain: the words Clemantine used to tell her story were so well-chosen that you’ll have a hard time getting bored reading it. Indeed, one can easily tell that she carefully chose them to tell her captivating story in such an emotional and humane way. I liked the poetic and detailed touch Ms. Wamariya also used, that had my imagination carried away during, and especially after, my reading experience. Let me break out for you the humane and emotional sides I noticed during my reading of her story, with examples in the book for each of them.

The humane side of her story struck me as Clemantine recalls the events she lived before, during and after her refugee life, through the eyes of her 6-year-old self. Through the first chapters, she talks about her daily life as a child, her childish pleasures, her beautiful memories, something that clearly distinguishes itself from the other testimonies of the Tutsi genocide’s survivors I’ve read so far because she tells her story in a way one can easily identify to.

The emotional side of her story I picked up in the book comes from the sequence of emotions Clemantine took the time to describe. I particularly liked the part where she tells the emotions she went through after the surprise family reunion in 2006 on Oprah, and also how she emotionally deals with the clash that sometimes arises from a few interactions she has with the American people, who never experienced war or refugee life.

Finally, the lessons I learned from Clemantine Wamariya’s book are very inspiring and relevant to, I believe, anyone who’d read it. They particularly reminded me the importance of the value of humility I cherish a lot. Her story made me realize how easy I have had it, and had me grateful for what I have. I want to finish this review with this passage from the book that particularly marked me.

“I want to make people understand that boxing ourselves into tiny cubbies based on class, race, ethnicity, religion—anything, really—comes from a poverty of mind, a poverty of imagination. The world is dull and cruel when we isolate ourselves. Survival, true survival of the body and soul, requires creativity, freedom of thought, collaboration. You may have time and I might have land. You may have ideas and I might have strength. You may 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 that 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 thinks, including ourselves.”

Where you can find it

You can get The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya pretty much anywhere that sells books: your favorite bookstore, Amazon (affiliate link), or any library. I personally got mine at my university’s library, but I liked it so much that I will definitely buy my own copy.

Conclusion

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is definitely worth your time. I took 5 days to finish it, five days during which I enjoyed every piece of the book. I found in its author, Clemantine Wamariya, a young and inspiring woman, who had the courage to share her story with the whole world. Undoubtedly something you will also find in her.

Good reading! 🙂

 

Steve Rutikara

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