The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After is not a light summer beach read. It is Clemantine Wamariya’s brutal account of her experiences as a refugee who fled the Rwandan massacre as a little girl in 1994 and of how those experiences permeate her new life as a United States citizen. Her ruthlessly honest foray into the past made me wince and cry at times, but Wamariya’s overall bravery and optimism in telling her story, along with her frankness about how difficult it is to do so, are inspiring to those of us who also struggle to take ownership of our pasts.
When we think of genocide, many of us think of the Holocaust, from which we are long removed. But Wamariya’s novel gives a face to more recent humanitarian crises. Only thirty years old, Wamariya describes the unfathomable by appealing to emotions that are fundamentally relatable: inability to move on from the past, fear of being left alone, skepticism about other people’s motives. Switching between chapters about her childhood as a refugee in Africa and her adulthood in the US, Wamariya puts her foreign experiences into perspective. Her bildungsroman, therefore, is not only a means of trying to make sense out of her broken world: it is an appeal to the reader’s most basic opposition to pain and a plea for humanitarianism.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads is the perfect read for anybody who feels isolated, cares about humanitarianism, or simply wants to read a unique and beautifully written novel.
Lauren Hakimi, from Long Island, New York, is an incoming freshman at Macaulay Honors at CUNY Hunter College, where she intends to pursue a major in English. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves to run and drink orange juice afterwards.
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