"The Girl Who Smiled Beads"

Today we welcome a new reviewer to MO Books, Joan Kletzker. She’s an avid reader of history, current events, commentary, and well written literary fiction. Joan also enjoys mysteries, with a great spy novel thrown in. She’s a retired early childhood teacher and lives with her husband in Washington. The couple has two children who live out of town. Joan says she’s looking forward to reviewing for MO Books, and is finding it a fun opportunity.

* * * * * * * * * * * Read “The Girl Who Smiled Beads” if you are interested in world affairs and history. Read this book if you believe in the power of story. Read it if you believe in the power of human transformation.

I could not put this book down. The writing itself is worth the read. Wamariya’s voice is clear, concise, and sharp. No ambiguity.

One definition of survival is to endure. Clemantine (pronounced Clemanteen) has endured and it appears will continue to do so. This non-fiction account weaves back and forth from life in refugee camps to her adopted home in a wealthy Chicago suburb. The difference between the two is chasm. Her anger, outrage and other jumbled emotions are palpable.

Clemantine begins her story with the phrase, “when I was a regular child,” living in Kigali, Rwanda. Eventually her childhood disappears. In seven years, she and her sister were in seven countries, the United States being the seventh. She writes about a disconnect between her two lives. Meaning well, someone she meets in Chicago asks her to draw her house. Her last “house” was in the slums of Zambia. Chicagoans wanted her to just be a kid and have fun. She repeatedly says they meant well, but they didn’t know how to connect with her either.

Wamariya’s path of enduring reaches a pivotal point when she reads “Night,” by Elie Wiesel. Finally, she feels someone has articulated her experience. This is the beginning of Clemantine finding her own story. (As an aside, she eventually meets Wiesel when they are on the board of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and traveled to Israel together.)

Wamariya asks for no sympathy, but tells us to hear the story of the “other” and to “believe in refugees,” which she said in a TED Talk. She urges us to repair the sins of the world and renew the face of the earth. You have sugar, she has flour, he has water. Come together to make something. Sharing is better than giving and taking. By giving you something, I now have power over you and you are in my debt.

Another sentence that grabbed me was her recommendation that we need as individuals, as communities, as nations, to “erase the language of ruin.”

Wamariya has issues with trusting others. She also continues to have a troubled relationship with her family of origin, who prefer to stay quiet and not tell their story. She has a vastly different life from her sister, and Wamariya struggles with the broad contrasts she has endured. Her wise suggestion is for us to know our own story, without varnish and with integrity and honesty.

“If you wade deep enough into memory and pay attention to available clues, a narrative will emerge that makes moral and emotional sense.”

Read this book. It will stay with you.