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Publisher's Summary

"The plot provided by the universe was filled with starvation, war and rape. I would not - could not - live in that tale."

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. In 1994, she and her 15-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years migrating through seven African countries, searching for safety - perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive.

When Clemantine was 12, she and her sister were granted refugee status in the United States; there, in Chicago, their lives diverged. Though their bond remained unbreakable, Claire, who had for so long protected and provided for Clemantine, was a single mother struggling to make ends meet, while Clemantine was taken in by a family who raised her as their own. She seemed to live the American dream: attending private school, taking up cheerleading, and, ultimately, graduating from Yale. Yet, the years of being treated as less than human, of going hungry and seeing death, could not be erased. She felt at the same time six years old and 100 years old.

In The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clemantine provokes us to look beyond the label of "victim" and recognize the power of the imagination to transcend even the most profound injuries and aftershocks. Devastating yet beautiful, and bracingly original, it is a powerful testament to her commitment to constructing a life on her own terms.

©2018 Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Sharp, moving... Wamariya and her co-author, Elizabeth Weil...describe Wamariya's idyllic early childhood in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, and the madness that followed with an analytic eye and, at times, a lyrical honesty.... Wamariya is piercing about her alienation in America and her effort to combat the perception that she is an exotic figure, to be pitied or dismissed.... Wamariya tells her own story with feeling, in vivid prose. She has remade herself, as she explains was necessary to do, on her own terms." (Alexis Okeowo, New York Times Book Review)

"A powerful record of the refugee experience...[with] moments of potent self-reckoning." (Kirkus Reviews)

"In her prose as in her life, Wamariya is brave, intelligent, and generous. Sliding easily between past and present, this memoir is a soulful, searing story about how families survive." (Booklist)

What members say

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  • Ali K
  • Sacramento, ca, US
  • 06-10-18

Heartbreakingly honest

Clementine, Thank you for sharing your story, your journey through the horrible atrocities of your childhood. God bless all those who showed each other kindness and generosity in the face of extreme adversity.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Great Book

Loved it, touched every emotion. One of the best books I have listened to in a long time. Shows how there should be more love and understanding of each other.

We are all created equal.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Beautiful story

This a a great story. Clementine is such a strong, wonderful person who has gone on a scary, incredible journey. This story helped me learn about history and reflect on my own world. And I would like to learn more about Rwanda and the genocide that happened there.