Hearts and Homes for Refugees Book Group discussion

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
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Stephanie | 9 comments Hello, I will be your discussion leader for The Girl Who Smiled Beads. I finished the book last month because I thought it was the March book. Ooops! I will try not to throw in any spoilers and please do not rush to finish the book.
This is the first time I am participating in a book club online, so please bear with me. I am certainly open to your comments and suggestions regarding the direction that our discussion goes in.
I am currently a middle school Library Media Specialist, so much of my reading is YA or lower. It has been a treat to read the books on our monthly list with HHR.
See you soon with our opening questions and thoughts.

Hearts and Homes for Refugees (heartsandhomesforrefugees) | 5 comments Mod
Thank you Stephanie for being our guide, looking forward to the read!

As some may be aware, this month marks 25 years since the start of the Rwandan Genocide, which lasted from April 7 - mid July 1994, and killed up to one million Rwandans, mainly of the Tutsi population.

New York Times published a powerful photo essay/article about the children of the genocide two days ago:

message 3: by Stephanie (last edited Apr 07, 2019 08:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Stephanie | 9 comments Hearts and Homes for Refugees wrote: "Thank you Stephanie for being our guide, looking forward to the read!

As some may be aware, this month marks 25 years since the start of the Rwandan Genocide, which lasted from April 7 - mid July ..."

Stephanie | 9 comments Thanks for adding this article.

message 5: by Stephanie (last edited Apr 07, 2019 08:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Stephanie | 9 comments Here are some discussion questions to start with. Please add anything else you are ready to discuss. (Note: Some of these questions have been modified from other discussion groups.)

--Keep the title in mind as you read the book. How is this African fable, that Mukamana tells Clemantine as child, connected with Clemantine’s journey.

--Although they have different personalities, Clemantine and Claire suffer together throughout their journey. It seems resourcefulness and resilience keep both of them going. Compare the different ways they manage to survive.

--At age 8, Clemantine cares for her niece, Mariette, while Claire is working. How does she know what to do to keep the baby clean, healthy, and safe? Why is caring for Mariette so important to her?

----People are kind to Clemantine on her journey. Why do Clemantine’s sister and mother instruct her not to accept gifts? And why does Clemantine come to see acts of charity as a negative thing?

Nanci | 2 comments I’m just starting the book now and I appreciate getting the above link and discussion questions.

Stephanie | 9 comments Here's a recent article from BBC.com regarding the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide that killed 800,000 people. This annual remembrance is mentioned in our book.

Stephanie | 9 comments Nanci wrote: "I’m just starting the book now and I appreciate getting the above link and discussion questions."

Glad you are joining us.

message 9: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Gyure | 10 comments Greetings everyone. I am almost halfway through book and thought I should comment now. This book reminds me of the last book we read, in several ways. This is yet another family who had to flee violent and gruesome war and gang violence in their home. They, too had to survive on anything they could manage as they escaped on foot. And of course they lost everything.

Here though, we also see what is like even when refugees are rescued and sent to large camps. Agencies do their best to provide basics but it is minimal at best. More hardship upon hardship as they struggle with the rations and that one monthly vitamin. Sometimes we wish we could donate money for food for these people...but we know, when we contribute to non profits and agencies they use their limited funds to deal with one emergency at a time..and with MILLIONS of refugees, how can they possibly support them all adequately?

I was a little disappointed that so much was skipped over and suddenly Clemantine and Claire were in US. But of course, who would read a 500 page book describing every detail of their complex and extensive journey of transitions and tragedy? I was very moved by the description of the loss of that one suitcase (airline's fault). We've all been inconvenienced on trips but we fight it and usually get our baggage back. I was trying to imagine what it was like for them to lose this container of such precious mementos, the only surviving artifacts of their former lives. I thought about the exhibition going around...the things they carried (artistic display of actual refugee suitcases and artifacts, I think in photo montages).

It is also a very realistic depiction of refugee life here in the US. The adjustments, the reality that some of their marriages are troubled. They are not thrilled with everything we try to shower them with. It is a reminder to me to always listen and pay attention to their wishes and traditions and only gradually introduce them to ours...and our materialism. I don't want to bring up always my Peace Corps experience, but even as someone who grew up here, my return to the US and seeing the wealth and bounty was overwhelming to me, for quite awhile. I could not turn the faucets on more than a trickle when I needed water, for example, and I remember leaving the grocery store with nothing because I was too confused and frankly disgusted, when I tried to find a simple cereal, in an aisle of hundreds of choices.

I will likely finish the book very soon since I am now hooked. Another great choice!

Stephanie | 9 comments Ruth, thanks for your insight. It is always interesting to see what part of a story readers latch onto. You have a personal perspective from the Peace Corps that most of us don't have. So true that we live in the land of plenty, yet we don't necessarily know what to provide for those who have left everything behind.

I thought there was enough detail about their journey, but the transitions from the African chapters to the American chapters could have been smoother.

I'm wondering what readers think about the difference between Clemantine's and Claire's lives, and those of their parents. I found the whole Oprah account well-intentioned, but awkward.

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Amy (amyerobertson) | 25 comments Mod
I just finished the book. I really feel that I am learning something new with each book we read in this group, but I think this may be the one I liked best so far. I found it eye opening to read about their experiences of deprivation even in the refugee camps. I deeply appreciated that Clemantine shared so much of her emotional processing of being in the US after living and seeing all that she has.

I was curious about Stephanie’s comment about the book being awkward. Is that a reference to the transitions? On one hand I did feel those were awkward, skipping back and forth in time, but on the other wondered if it would have been too heavy to read in chronological order- they lived a solid decade of mostly hellish experiences.

I was intrigued by the relationship between Claire and Clemantine. It was clear how much Clemantine admired and respected her older sister, who did everything to keep her alive and with basic needs met in a very difficult situation. I wondered what their relationship was like now. Similarly I would have loved to know more about Clemantine’s current relationship with her mother. She described the trip the two of them took, but we don’t get dialogue or something that lets us know much about how the others feel about Clemantine.

I could relate to Ruth’s comment about returning to the US after being somewhere outside of the US with less. I was nowhere as remote, but have felt moments upon return to the US of being overwhelmed by something like the infinite magazine selection, and disturbed by our “toss it” instead of repair it mentality.

Anyway, I was fascinated by this memoir and found it hard to put down.

message 12: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Gyure | 10 comments After finishing book, I do have a few additional comments. The back and forth between Africa and US was still jarring...everything in Clemantime's life seemed to be crammed into too few pages, chaotic and fast. But on reflection after I read more and more, I did see some of the reasons for this. She fully admitted more than once, that even she didn't understand her life. She struggled with half-memories, distant and blurry recollections, and her own frustration with her inability to fully document her past. The book gives us a good sense of that.

I agree with others who wanted to know more about Claire. How different it must have been for the elder responsible daughter in charge of their escape and survival, and the child who had little idea what was even happening!

I also found it intriguing that Clemantine had a hard time with her reunion with her mom. It's not always rosy and ideal. Very honest and I appreciated that.

Finally...in balance I think to have covered so much territory both historical and psychological and emotional in so few pages was pretty darned good. I highly recommend the book.


message 13: by John (last edited Apr 20, 2019 07:57PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Newton | 13 comments Hi all,

So I just finished it. Like Ruth mentioned in her first post, I also found myself comparing it to Call Me American. What struck me most when comparing the two books was how much, well, stories played a part in both the memoirs. In Call Me American, Hollywood films and then telling stories to the NPR audience. In The Girl... the huge impact that Elie Wiesel's Night, books by W.G. Sebald, and Rwandan folktales had on Clemantine.

Her focus on stories, however, seems to be even more critical and urgent than Abdi's in Call Me American—that through narratives, she will make sense of an experience that would seem to be beyond words.

I was also struck by Clemantine's humor. The Oprah incident that opens the book is so surreal the way she presents it, and the "I Survived Basketball Camp" t-shirt worn by a teenager in one of the homes that welcomed her (maybe the Thomases? I'd have to double check) is mentioned in such a darkly funny way.

And I also agree with something in Ruth's second comment about Clemantine's focus on memories, and the challenges of piecing together her life into a story that makes sense when much physical evidence (photographs, documents) is lost and she is left only with blurry recollections. By the time she mentions refugees being concerned with photo storage, and someone on the Red Cross panel dismissing it, you already understand why this would be so important before she needs to explain it.

There's one passage that struck me and seemed almost like a good explanation of why something like this reading group is important: "This—Rwanda, my life—is a different, specific, personal tragedy, just as each of those horrors was a different, specific, personal tragedy, and inside all those tidy labeled boxes are 6 million, or 1.7 million or 100,000 or 100 billion lives destroyed.... You cannot bear witness with a single word." Listening to people bearing witness clearly requires being open to hearing individual stories from Syria, Somalia, Guatemala, Rwanda, and wherever we are headed in May.

message 14: by Stephanie (last edited Apr 25, 2019 03:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Stephanie | 9 comments Thank you all for your insightful comments. In response to Amy, I just thought some of the transitions were awkward. I'm sure there was a reason for switching back and forth between the Rwanda chapters and the American chapters. Maybe there was an underlying connection if they were paired up. Maybe not. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was actually a bit of a history lesson for me. I was not completely in tune with Rwanda while these horrific events were happening.

A phrase that sticks with me is “Everything is yours, everything is not yours. The world owes you nothing; nobody deserves more or less than the next person.” Does this have to do with survival, ego, mindfulness, something else? Any thoughts on that before our month ends?

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Amy (amyerobertson) | 25 comments Mod
Stephanie wrote: "A phrase that sticks with me is “Everything is yours, everything is not yours. The world owes you nothing; nobody deserves more or less than the next person.” Does this have to do with survival, ego, mindfulness, something else? Any thoughts on that before our month ends?"

I loved that phrase. "Nobody deserves more or less than the next person." I think it's very easy to fall into the trap of feeling that we are somehow different or even somehow superior to refugees or other vulnerable people. We are ALL worthy. Yet no one better than another. Not a bad thought to keep at the forefront of our minds.

Stephanie | 9 comments Thanks to everyone who participated in the group. On to the next book.....

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