The Girl Who Smiled Beads - Book Review and Book Club Questions
Autobiography, by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Wile, about Clemantine's experience of the Rwandan Massacre.
This is a powerful and well-written autobiography/biography sharing the story of Clemantine Wamariya. She and her sister Claire are adrift as refugees, fleeing the terror imposed during the Rwandan War. I hadn’t heard of Clemantine prior to reading the book, but it seems she became something of a ‘genocide survivor celebrity’ after sharing her story on Oprah.
When considering memoirs and biographies there tends to be an assumption that the process of writing the book will help the author come to peace with what has happened in it. – a cathartic process. What struck me most about this text is that this doesn’t seem to be the case. Even as the book comes to its conclusion and Clementine tries to make things as ‘right’ as they ever can be for her mother, she continues to seem completely troubled. There is a sense that she has gone through the worst, come out the other side, but because of that almost incomprehensible worst there can never be a best. So, whilst Clemantine can analyse and evaluate her situation and does critically review everything she has been through, she can’t quite fully come to terms with it or move forward.
The book does make for an unnerving read. There is nothing comfortable about Clemantine’s account as she repeatedly reflects on the brutality of it. There is no redemption, no forgiving and forgetting. One of the things Clemantine is troubled and confused by is how many Rwandan’s have, to some extent at least, moved forward with life (of course they have to). She finds this difficult to comprehend and the reader is exposed to the complexity of responding emotionally with any kind of rationality to such horror.
Clemantine explores the life she has created in America and illustrates how she is frequently misjudged, mistreated and misunderstood. To be truthful, whilst reading I am full of fear that I am the person doing the misunderstanding, which makes me feel a little defensive about a perhaps imagined reproach. Ridiculous eh! I feel that Clemantine resents and fears that she will always have the outsider position imposed on her yet cannot allow herself to take any other societal or personal position in the relationships she makes.
Lasting Impression of the Girl Who Smiled Beads
Ultimately, the book made me feel humbled, frightened, reflective and grateful. I love the parable of the girl who smiled beads, I love the honesty of the writing and I love being privileged to have had this ‘life story’ shared with me.
Book Club Discussion Questions for The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clmeantine Wamariya
Extra Book Club Discussion Questions for Clemantine Wamariya's The Girl Who Smiled Beads (if you haven’t read the book.)