“It’s strange how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee.”
The Land of a Thousand Hills used to house tens of thousands of mountain gorillas. The country was known for its multitude of lakes, national forests and chains of volcanoes. This all became the backdrop of one of the worst massacres of the 20th century as a plane crashed down in 1994, killing President Juvenal Habyarimana. Calls were made throughout Rwanda to incite violence. Death, destruction, and powerless victims remained while others fled. My first impression of Rwanda was the 2004 movie, Hotel Rwanda. I didn’t notice the landscape over my own tears.
Clemantine Wamariya, author of The Girl Who Smiled Beads, wrote about her experience fleeing the Rwandan massacre. People asked questions of her after the movie premiered, but she did not feel they had a right to her pain. This memoir shares the journey of that pain as she travels through several countries, refugee camps, all the way to the United States where she begins to heal. Almost a million Rwandans were killed, and hundreds of thousands raped. The weapon of choice was a machete, a tool that had previously been used to support the economy. The refugees fled to surrounding countries but feared returning after the massacre came to an end. The country is still recovering and relies heavily on foreign aid. The bravery behind this memoir is heroic. It truly puts a face to the Rwandan genocide, even if Clemantine does not agree with that term.
The actual writing was a bit faulty due to repetition. Also, her appearance on Oprah would have been better towards the middle of the book once we know Clemantine, instead of the appearance setting the tone for the book. Her perspective feels like the minority of refugees because the opportunities she was blessed with allowed her to receive a private school education then acceptance into Yale University. I would like to take the fresh perspective of this memoir and compare it to other refugees who returned to Rwanda after the crisis. There are many complaints that the book is whining about her circumstance, but wouldn’t you? Have you slept on dirt, had bugs climb into your skin, been forced to give up all your possessions, and had no contact with your family to know if they are dead or alive for many years? I think the complaints aid the belief that the world is smaller when you are young. You have fewer wants and needs but the loss of them seems larger. I do wonder how her family felt of her portrayal of them, especially her sister Claire. It would be interesting to see the family reunited after the release of the book to discuss their diverse perspectives on the events.
Overall, this wasn’t a five-star read but it made me THINK. It made me really think. Honestly, isn’t that a reason to read?