The Girl Who Smiled Beads


Clemantine Wamariya

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The Girl Who Smiled Beads Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Clemantine Wamariya's The Girl Who Smiled Beads. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Clemantine Wamariya

Clemantine Wamariya was born in Kigali, Rwanda in 1988 to a Tutsi family. When she was six years old, the Rwandan Genocide broke out when the Hutu people attempted to exterminate the Tutsis. Wamariya was forced to flee Rwanda with her sister Claire. They migrated through seven African countries, staying with family and in refugee camps and suffering starvation, violence, and degradation. When Wamariya was 12, she and Claire immigrated to the United States. Wamariya stayed with a host family in Chicago, Illinois while she attended high school. During this time, she wrote an essay on Elie Wiesel’s book Night, which won an Oprah essay award. To recognize this achievement, Oprah welcomed Wamariya and Claire on the Oprah Winfrey Show and surprised them by reuniting them with their estranged family. Wamariya eventually went on to attend Hotchkiss School in Connecticut and went on to receive a BA in comparative literature from Yale University. Having become internationally famous after her appearance on Oprah, Wamariya went on to pursue a career as a public speaker and human rights activist. She gave a TED Talk titled “War and What Comes After” and spoke on the behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, of which she was appointed a board member by Barack Obama. After graduating Yale, Wamariya met Elizabeth Weil, and the two co-authored The Girl Who Smiled Beads, publishing it in 2018. Wamariya currently lives in San Francisco. Wamariya’s coauthor, Elizabeth Weil, also attended Yale University. After graduating, Weil moved to New York City and wrote for The New York Times. Along with the Times, she is also a frequent contributor to Outside and Vogue magazine. She wrote two nonfiction books, No Cheating, No Dying and They All Laughed at Christopher Columbus, before co-authoring The Girl Who Smiled Beads with Wamariya. She has received various awards for her travel writing, feature reporting, and coverage of LGBTQ issues. Her work has also been recognized for its excellence in writing about trauma. She and her husband have two daughters and live in San Francisco.
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Historical Context of The Girl Who Smiled Beads

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is set largely during the Rwandan Genocide, a horrific period of mass killing that lasted for 100 days between April 7 and July 15, 1994. The Rwandan Genocide, in which the Hutu-led government and various militias tried to exterminate the Tutsi minority ethnic group (as well as some Hutu and Twa people), deeply scarred Rwanda. Wamariya’s memoir grapples with the short- and long-term effects of such a horrific tragedy. The memoir gives a historical account of how Belgian colonizers brought eugenics to Rwanda and a firsthand account of how Rwandans struggled to achieve peace and reconcile with the neighbors who’d killed their families. Most significantly, Wamariya’s memoir explores how refugees of the genocide struggled with their sense of belonging, not only while they were refugees but also for the rest of their lives. She describes the loss of belonging, cohesion, identity, and faith that the genocide and her experience as a refugee dealt her. The disrupted normalcy that Wamariya describes can be compared to that of survivors of other major historical traumas, such as the Holocaust.

Other Books Related to The Girl Who Smiled Beads

Clemantine Wamariya’s memoir chronicles her deeply traumatic experience as a refugee, a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, and an immigrant to the Unites States. She was inspired to write this memoir by Elie Wiesel’s Night, a memoir of Wiesel’s experience surviving the Holocaust. As a student at Yale University, Wamariya studied the works of W.G. Sebald, including On the Natural History of Destruction and Austerlitz, in which Sebald explores the Holocaust and the themes of trauma and history. The open-ended and non-linear structure of The Girl Who Smiled Beads was inspired by Sebald’s idea that the past is recalled through instincts, habits, and triggers that come to a person at random. Wamariya also references Toni Morrison’s writing throughout her memoir. Toni Morrison’s novels, such as Sula and The Bluest Eye, describe Black American people’s experiences. In her memoir, Wamariya tries to understand her own experience as part of both the Black American and African communities. Lastly, The Diary of Anne Frank is another first-person account written during a violent and deeply traumatic event (the Holocaust).
Key Facts about The Girl Who Smiled Beads
  • Full Title: The Girl Who Smiled Beads
  • When Written: 2018
  • Where Written: San Francisco, California
  • When Published: April 24, 2018
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Setting: Africa and the United States
  • Antagonist: The Rwandan Genocide, Rob
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for The Girl Who Smiled Beads

Serendipity. Although Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil are both Yale alumna, they only met by coincidence after they’d both graduated and were living in San Francisco. Wamariya told Weil of her experiences, and the two began writing a feature article about them. This article lengthened into The Girl Who Smiled Beads.

Curious Clemantine. When Clemantine was a girl in Kigali, Rwanda, her family nicknamed her Cassette because Clemantine asked lots of questions and repeated everything she heard.