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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)

"Like Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, on being a boy soldier in Sierra Leone, or Joseph Kim’s Under the Same Sky, on escaping North Korea, The Girl Who Smiled Beads is at once terrifying and life-affirming. And like those memoirs, it painstakingly describes the human cost of war." (Washington Post

“Remarkable.... Wamariya and the journalist Elizabeth Weil set out to sabotage facile uplift.... The fractured form of her own narrative - deftling toggling between her African and American odysseys - gives troubled memory its dark due.” (Ann Hulbert, The Atlantic

  • Winner of the 2019 ALA/YALSA Alex Award
  • A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2018
  • A Glamour Best Book of 2018
  • A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2018
  • A Real Simple Best Book of 2018

Featured Article: Honoring the Courage and Heart of Displaced Peoples on World Refugee Day


World Refugee Day is a time to celebrate the bravery and strength of those who have had to flee their homes in search of protection. But it's also a day of empathy, of understanding, and of listening, so that we may hear the stories of refugees and the struggles they've had to endure. This collection of biographies and memoirs written by and about refugees offers a window into their lived experiences and an invitation to a greater sense of compassion.

What listeners say about The Girl Who Smiled Beads

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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.

4 people found this helpful

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Narrator detracts from story

The best part of this audio book was the end when Clemantine herself speaks. Although halting, it is warm, human, emotional. This narrator was so mechanical, so robotic, so devoid of emotion that I found myself comparing her to a computer reading a text. The result was a coldness and lack of emotion....not an easy feat given the story she was telling. It is too bad. I loved the story, loved learning what I did, but my compassion for Clemantine really only came at the end when she herself was talking.

6 people found this helpful

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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.

5 people found this helpful

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Gripping, humbling, heart-rending

One does not always know what one does not know. I knew I knew little of refugee life, but this book while enlightening me with details of things that occurred, also enlightened me to the knowledge that I cannot grasp the enormity of the trauma involved in the life that came about out of absolute necessity. While trying to understand, I also know that I cannot. What I do know is that I am grateful that Clementine was willing to tell her story with such honesty and transparency. I can only say thank you.

1 person found this helpful

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Completely Captivating

It has been a long time since I found a book so completely captivating that I couldn’t push “stop”. Her accounts of her experiences, how she continually overcomes, simply beautiful. I even started it over and had my 3 daughters listen, too.
5+ STARS!!!

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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.

1 person found this helpful

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Meh…

I wanted to like it more because these types of stories are the exact type that I love to listen to. The storyline kept jumping around back and forth. I had some trouble keeping interest. The audio wasn’t the best either. I think a lot of this book and storytelling was trying to be poetic in some sort, and I didn’t care for that.

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One of the best narrators I’ve listened to

It feels like listening a monologue performance instead of “someone reading a book”. I would recommend this book mostly for that reason. This is definitely one of the books that are better as an audiobook. I don’t know if Clementine itself is that likeable as a character but maybe because she was being brutally honest. The story is interesting because it offers a different point of view from victims of war/life after the war, but I have a feeling it won’t give me that much impact if I just read the book as a text instead of listen to the audiobook

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A must read

A life changing perspective. So raw and beautifully told. Clementine’s narration of her thoughts make it relatable, real, imaginable. Which is horrifying, and so so important.

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Moving Story

beautiful story of life and innate resilience. i learned so much about history, too.