The Girl Who Smiled Beads | Clemantine Wamariya

Summary of: The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
By: Clemantine Wamariya


Welcome to the compelling story of ‘The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After’ by Clemantine Wamariya. This book provides an introspective look into Wamariya’s life as a Rwandan genocide survivor and eventually becoming a human rights advocate. With vivid details, Clemantine and her co-author, Elizabeth Weil, discuss the harrowing experiences of fleeing from home, seeking refuge, and rebuilding life in the face of adversity. The central themes of this autobiography expand beyond the refugee crisis and delve into the immense challenges posed by survival and the complexities of human nature in dire circumstances. As you explore this book summary, be prepared to feel empathy, anger, sorrow, and ultimately, hope.

A Survivor’s Journey

Clemantine Wamariya recounts her experience of surviving the Rwandan genocide in her personal memoir co-written by Elizabeth Weil. Her middle-class home turned into a war zone when she was six years old. Clemantine and her older sister Claire escaped to eventually become refugees living in a Red Cross refugee camp. The book explores human nature amid the pressures of war, poverty, and homelessness. Despite the horrors and challenges faced, Wamariya is a human rights advocate and public speaker today, emphasizing the importance of empathy and connection.

Wamariya’s harrowing journey

Wamariya’s life takes a dramatic turn when war erupts in Zaire, forcing her to flee her village with her sister and baby niece. The trio faces numerous challenges, from a sinking boat to a lack of resources in new villages. Eventually, they end up in Durban, South Africa, where they encounter television personality Oprah Winfrey. They stay there until Rob, who wants to marry Claire, tells them they have to travel to Rwanda to find their parents. Despite the risks involved, they set out for Rwanda.

Wamariya’s life changes drastically when war disrupts the peace in her village. She, her sister Claire, and Claire’s baby daughter Mariette are among the people forced to leave their homes. Along the way, they encounter Rob, a CARE worker from Zaire who wants to marry Claire. Rob takes them to his home village, where they receive a warm welcome. However, when the village loses electricity and its water system, Wamariya, Claire, and Mariette have to flee once again. They get on a boat that starts to sink, and people throw their prized possessions into the water to stay afloat. Eventually, they reach Durban, where Oprah Winfrey becomes a source of comfort for Wamariya. However, their stay is cut short when Rob tells them they have to go to Rwanda to find their parents. Despite the dangers involved, they take the risk and set out for Rwanda.

From War Zone to the United States

Clemantine Wamariya travels from Zaire to the United States with two other adults and Mariette, a young girl. Wamariya and her companions struggle to find food and survive in the war-torn Zaire. They eventually move to a slum in Lusaka, Zambia, where they meet a UN representative. Claire applies for a microloan which leads to an opportunity to apply for immigration to the United States. They accept and fly to Chicago.

A Journey of Hope

Wamariya, a refugee, was taken in by a church member in America where she experienced a better life and helped care for the family. She didn’t share her newfound comfort with her sister until they reunited their family in the US. This experience taught Wamariya the difference between a story and experience, the latter being a guide to true existence.

The Power of Letting Go

In her essay-winning recount, Wamariya shares her painful experience of being separated from her family during the war. She and her sister later appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show, where they reunited with their family. The reality of their reunion, however, was different from what they had hoped for. Wamariya struggled to channel her anger and pain until she gave away 100 braided bead bracelets, each representing something painful or destructive that she had let go of. This act of letting go empowered her to overcome her struggles and ultimately led to her acceptance at Yale.

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