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.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE ALBERTINE PRIZE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY ESQUIRE • LONGLISTED FOR THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE IN FICTION • LONGLISTED FOR THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE
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.
Faye debuts a precise and potent voice in his deeply affecting novel about coming of age during the mid-1990s Tutsi genocide. Ten-year-old Gabriel has a peaceful, mischievous childhood marred only by the growing rift between his French father and Rwandan mother. He and his friends roam the streets of their well-heeled neighborhood in the Burundi capital of Bujumbura, stealing mangos and avoiding the bully Francis; Gabriel daydreams about moving to France to be with his pen pal crush Laure. But then Burundi's first democratic elections in 1993 sputter into a military coup, while rumors of impending civil war across the border in Rwanda stoke ethnic tensions among Gabriel's peers and the entire city. Gabriel's mother crosses the border to seek news of her Tutsi family and returns traumatized; Gabriel retreats into voracious reading as his friends get involved with guerrilla warfare. Faye includes a range of individuals representing the economic and racial complexities of postcolonial Africa. The most powerful moments come as Gabriel stumbles through processing his alarming new realities with delayed understanding. The juxtaposition of everyday growing pains and the fallout from atrocities is heightened by Faye's lovely prose, which builds a heartrending portrait of the end of childhood.
Wow… spectacularly evocative and heart-rending; Mr. Faye — unknown to me until I chanced upon this book at random (while planning an October surgical mission trip to Burundi) — is an unequivocal talent and prodigy, chronicling an increasingly dark coming-of-age that lays bare the horrors of ethnic genocide that metastasized well beyond Rwanda’s borders at the close of the last century. There is so much to like about this book; its prose, its playful interludes, its bang-on ability to give a sense of place… and person… and time. Just wonderful. Not sure if the author has an encore in the works (would be tough to follow), but Mr. Faye — as I also learned — is an equally capable musical talent with multiple francophone albums to his credit (also worth a try/listen). Bravo!