Small Country by Gaël Faye

Small Country

Gaël Faye

Small Country is a stirring tribute to a dark chapter in Africa’s past and to the bright days that preceded it.

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Already an international sensation and prize-winning bestseller in France, an evocative coming-of-age story of a young boy, a lost childhood and a shattered homeland.

‘I was born with this story. It ran in my blood. I belonged to it.’
Burundi, 1992. For ten-year-old Gabriel, life in his comfortable expatriate neighborhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother and little sister Ana, is something close to paradise.
These are carefree days of laughter and adventure – sneaking Supermatch cigarettes and gorging on stolen mangoes – as he and his mischievous gang of friends transform their tiny cul-de-sac into their kingdom.
But dark clouds are gathering over this small country, and soon their peaceful existence will shatter when Burundi, and neighboring Rwanda, are brutally hit by civil war and genocide.  
A novel of extraordinary power and beauty, Small Country describes an end of innocence as seen through the eyes of a child caught in the maelstrom of history. Shot through with shadows and light, tragedy and humor, it is a stirring tribute not only to a dark chapter in Africa’s past, but also to the bright days that preceded it.

Advance Galley Reviews

To be a short book, it is so full of descriptions and emotions. Children travel from being young and vulnerable to teenagers in adventure to young adults fighting for their lives. I did not enjoy reading of all the turmoil and killing. But I did enjoy the writing and the use of language making you feel a witness of the story. This book certainly gives a perspective that everyone needs to read.

This novel is written in short glimpses of 10 year old Gaby's life in Burundi--at first a life of play and privilege, and gradually one impacted and devastated by civil war. I have read a number of other novels and memoirs describing what happened in Burundi and Rwanda, and this book does a good job of showing the inescapable escalations of war, as it moves closer and closer to Gaby's family and own life, even to someone who was not familiar with this history. Gaby himself is an introspective character, who finds (some) refuge in his letters to his French penpal and the novels his neighbor lends him, and some of this book is beautiful (it's also brutal and agonizing reading at times, as one might expect considering what is going on around Gaby). In the end, I felt more distant from his experience than I have from other accounts. I think it lets the reader have too many chances to escape, even as Gaby (unlike other members of his family) eventually does.

I loved reading this book. The characters gave so much meaning to the culture of Burundi and the surrounding African countries. Besides the tragic ethnic/tribal wars, at the heart of the story is the main character Gabriel(Gaby) and his group of friends. I love the dynamics of each friendship, their love for each other and their home country. I was also intrigued by the different family structures in the book especially Gaby's bi-racial family and how their roles were defined in Burundi society at the time. Although the book doesn’t have a fairy tale ending the ending provided a sort of closure. I didn't want Gaby's story to end. I wanted to see what would happen for him, his family and also for the people who still reside in Burundi. I would recommend this book to everyone as it brings a different perspective of what goes on in a small African country far away that doesn’t get enough media attention.

This short book is written in the form of a memoir by the 33 year old Gabriel who is now living in France. The story is set in Burundi during 1992 and 1993 when Gabriel aged 10/11 is living in an expat neighborhood with his younger sister Ana and their French father Michel and Rwandan (Tutsi) mother Yvonne. This is the second book I've read this month about the genocide in Rwanda. The first book (nonfiction) told me that it was the Belgians who had sorted the Rwandans into ethnic groups Tutsis, Hutus and Twa pygmies. Tutsis and Hutus lived in the same land, had the same religion and spoke the same languages so nothing really separated them except some artificial sorting imposed by Europeans on Africans. This book doesn't deal with the history of the ethnic conflict, other than Michel's opinion that the difference was based on the shape of their noses. Actually, in the case of each book I felt like I was inspecting a house by looking through a pinhole. The stories were very personal and focused, but I'm still missing the larger picture. Yvonne had to flee Rwanda in 1963 when she was 4 after her family home was burned and she still feels like an outsider in Burundi. Perhaps that is why she is the only member of the family who acknowledges the dangers that are coming. Gabriel enjoyed a relatively stress-free childhood with his friends, until a military coup in Burundi wiped out its recent experimentation with democracy and the reports of killings in Rwanda could no longer be ignored. The family eventually faced threats of violence from both the Hutus and the Tutsis. However, the majority of this book is about Gabriel hanging out with his friends and I can't say I really felt his pain when things went badly because there was a certain remoteness in the writing. For the most part Gabriel viewed the war with his peripheral vision. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

I wasn't really educated on what occurred in Africa before this book, however this did not stop me from understanding. I found Gabriel to be an extremely heart felt character and could not begin to imagine the devastation he faced at a young age. I liked how the beginning and the end of the book tied together and Gabriel was able to face his past. This was just an okay book for me. I really felt that the last half of the book was incoherent in many ways and it is hard for me to follow at times. Thanks for the ARC, First to Read.

This tale of the war in Burundi and the massacre of Rwanda is told from a point of view just removed enough to make it bearable, just short enough to get through without losing courage. Gaby is a child of mixed race parents, of privilege in Burundi, and his mother was a Tutsi refugee from Rwanda with family still in her native country. Gaby and his father work hard to stay neutral for as long as possible, try to avoid taking sides and getting swallowed by the violence. The language is simple but beautiful, and Gaby discovers books in the midst of the violence, lending a poetry to his last thoughts in the book. The effect is heartbreaking but beautiful. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

"It's not the terrestrial distance that makes the journey long, but the time that has elapsed." I received a free copy of this ebook from in exchange for an honest review. This is a hard book to rate. The content is pretty brutal. The author captures how trauma sits with someone forever and how things shape us. The story talks about the genocide in Rwanda and yet only about a third or so of the book takes place during that time. While we hear stories and experience the loss along with some of these characters the book didn't quite resonate with me the way I expected. I was hoping for something maybe more reflective or focusing more on answers and to me this read more like someone still looking for answers. This book focuses on pain and how traumas stick with us. It's a perspective not often shared about the Rwandan genocide.

While I've read other things that are about the Rwandan genocide, this book gives a slightly different view of what happened. It focuses instead on Burundi, which also had it's own war. It shows how what happens in one country, or area, can influence another area. However, instead of focusing directly on the violence that occurred, it gives us glancing views of the horror that occurred. This is because the story focuses on Gaby, a young boy, who tries to keep hold of hind childhood in the midst of horrific events. This book is slow building and it pulled me in without my even realizing it.

Since this is a story that takes place in Africa, there's a lot of 'different' word spellings to navigate...of French & African names/origin....i.e. places like Cyangugu, Uvira, Bukavu, Bujumbura, Lake Tanganyika & there's the language of Kinyarwanda. Since this is a true story of a family's experience of life & death in Rwanda & Burundi, before/during/after the horrific genocide that took place there in the early 1990's....navigating those strange spellings is trivial. Another story of seemingly impossible survival. I did learn quite a bit about some of the events that surrounded that conflict between the Hutu & Tutsi. I thought the author was somehow (?!) able to convey the horror/violence/gruesomeness of the scene....without 'much ado'..... It was a fast, compelling read. I received this e-ARC from Penguin's First-To-Read Giveaway program, in exchange for my own unbiased, fair/honest review.

A story full of grit and raw beauty. Small country took me in and how, totally unexpected. If anyone’s looking to acquaint themselves with a very significant chapter in Africa’s history in a mesmerising, magnetic sort of way, this simple book does it. Immediately after finishing the book, I googled Gael Faye, Burundi genocide as well as googling jacaranda trees, etc. Do you see the spectrum here? From the descriptions of the pulchritudinous geography that is Africa to the bloody riot that is Africa, this books constantly juxtaposes these two paradoxical aspects, leaving the reader awestruck constantly. The story is about a boy, from a privileged family, living through one of the worst chapters in his country’s history. Although privileged, the boy has his own share of exposure to the unforgiving dark side of anarchic elements too. The boy has seen glorious and peaceful days. And almost suddenly his world turns upside down when he is faced with domestic conflicts, and political conflicts messing with personal choices. And lots of sudden violence and bloodshed. It’s a very simple, humiliating story. It shows how humans are ruthlessly capable of creating unwanted barriers and then destroying each other on the basis of something they invented. It’s an almost typical story of human emotions, ego, friendships and relationships, mental turmoils, of a war-ravaged country. It touches a chord. It stirs you up and rouses you. It shakes you up. It’s moving. It’s devastating. It’s beautiful. I sure hope I’d have been able to read this in French but the English translation is very beautiful. The reading is very easy making this book a page turner. The characters are well developed and the imagery so vivid. Overall, I’m very glad I chose this book as my ARC in an attempt to also explore stories of other worlds written in languages I’m not fully familiar with and by people who are not known to me. 4 stars out of 5.


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