In Rwanda, the unthinkable happened. In 1994 the Hutu, the majority, started slaying their brethren, the Tutsi. For 100 days, neighbors and family members turned on each other, and by the end it is estimated that nearly 1 million people died. That’s roughly 14% of their population.
“The word genocide cannot explain the never-ending pain, even if you live… You cannot bear witness with a single word.” (94-95)
I kept the intro brief because this is not my story. This is Clemantine’s.
Prior to reading The Girl Who Smiled Beads my knowledge about what happened in Rwanda was basic. I, like many, saw Hotel Rwanda and that’s where most of my info came from. The book filled in a lot of gaps for me, especially the ‘how did it come to this?’, and enlightened me to what happened to those who escaped.
Clemantine Wamariya’s nonfiction novel is not only about Rwanda but her life as a refugee for six years. At six years old Clem, along with with 15 year old sister Claire, are forced to flee their home, unable to return back for years. Every time Clem felt some kind of stability in a place, it would soon be destroyed, and life would have to begin again in another country.
As Clemantine describes the events that happened in those six years, the parallel narrative is her years in America. At the age of 12 Clem and her sister’s family are granted asylum in America. After years of moving forward and not looking back, Clemantine has the daunting task of looking at her past with a fine-tooth comb.
“Some part of me believes that if I can just find the right arrangement of the pieces… I can create a narrative of my life that looks beautiful to me and makes sense.” (34)
In a work of fiction we expect the story to make narrative sense and all the pieces to come together. There’s always exceptions, but overall we crave a satisfying end to an Arc of a book, movie, or show. I think the reason we crave this closure is because our lives lack it, or if closure does happen, it takes years, or we don’t even realize till much later after the fact.
In the prologue Clemantine says, “Often, still, my own life story feels fragmented, like beads unstrung.” Even before I read her story I was endeared to Clem because she hits on a feeling I know I’ve felt before. With everything that Clem went through and seen, there’s no way I can relate with that level of pain (only sympathize), but I do understand trying to make sense of the events of your life.
I highly recommend The Girl Who Smiled Beads. The only aspect that readers might not like is the narrative switching back and forth between two different timelines (before and after seeking asylum in the States). Personally I had no issue with it, and once you get further into Clem’s later years, it even made sense to me.
Author: Clemantine Wamariya