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Small Country by Gaël Faye
Literary fiction

Small Country

Debut
We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Gaël Faye, on your first book!
Early Release
This is an early release that's only available to our members—the rest of the world has to wait 'til next month to read it.

by Gaël Faye

Quick take

A young man recounts the twilight of his childhood as his home country of Burundi sinks into war.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad

    Sad

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Cerebral

    Cerebral

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_International

    International

Why I love it

Liberty Hardy
BOTM Judge

I’ll be honest: This is a slim novel with very a serious subject. But! It is also the kind of book that will stay with you for a long time. Set amidst the beautiful scenery of Africa and based on a dark chapter in Burundi’s history, Small Country—which won France’s most prestigious literary award—is a powerful, important story about family, cultural differences, and war.

Gaby is a boy of ten living in Burundi with his French father and Rwandan mother. The novel begins with the lovely memories he has of his childhood—being a carefree kid, playing with friends, exploring the beautiful countryside—but gradually darkens as political upheaval and violence sweep through his life, forcing him to make terrible decisions that will haunt him for the rest of his days.

It was a terrifying time, but after having lived through it himself, the author knows how to expertly intertwine unspeakable horrors with the small moments of beauty and humor that characterize a boy just trying to live like everything is still normal. It’s not always an easy read, but I ask you to trust me when I say it’s a worthy one. Don’t forget, books that break your heart also strengthen your soul.

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Synopsis

“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.

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Member thoughts

All (1698)
All (1698)
Love (700)
Like (879)
Dislike (119)
1787 ratings
  • 39% Love
  • 49% Like
  • 7% Dislike
  • Boston , MA

    Really powerful story that seems a fictionalized memior of the author's family's harrowing experience in Burundi. In this time of increasing awareness of people needing asylum, a beautifully written account

  • Palmdale, CA

    Beautifully, lyrical coming of age story in the midst of Africa's genocide, pitching the children of Africa's two largest ethnic groups - the Hutu's and Tutsi. As adults, we Know the end results of hatred

  • Milton , NH

    I was pulled into a culture and a war I knew little about, but found myself heartbroken for everyone involved. Childhood, culture, and family shouldn’t be robbed from anyone. War is a terrible thing.

  • Concord, CA

    A moving memoir of a childhood in Burundi, a love story to a country descended into hell that once was paradise. Each word, each phrase carefully chosen with just the right amount of light and weight.

  • Apple Valley, CA

    "Genocide is an oil slick: those who don't drown in it are polluted for life." -pg.154. One of the most riveting stories I have ever read. The story of Gabby, desperately trying to save his childhood.

  • Saint George, UT

    This novel beautifully describes how war can change a person's life. Gael Faye provides small vignettes at the beginning of his novel that later come together to provide depth at the end. A must read.

  • Bethpage, NY

    This slim novel packed a powerful punch. A slow burn, the novel writes of the genocide in Rwanda and the coups/war in neighboring Burundi (concurrent and ensuing) and the loss of childhood innocence.

  • Lexington, MA

    An incredibly well-written novel, packed with intense imagery of real-life horrors but also sweet moments of pure joy, small glimpses of hope, and joviality of a childhood that doesn’t want to end.

  • North Augusta, SC

    Beautifully written to submerge you in the heartbreaking reality of war through the eyes of a child. Reminds me of my responsibility as a human to show compassion despite the craziness of our world.

  • Coeur d Alene, ID

    This book is interwoven from a variety of smaller, interconnected events and tales. Each is poignant, vivid, and emotive. This book challenged my view of humanity; it will be with me for a long time.

  • Tacoma, WA

    This book will haunt me forever. I know watching my son grow up I will have flashes back to this book, remembering all the things another boy, somewhere, my sons age, most likely has had to endure.

  • Aurora, CO

    Small Country complicates popular ideas of what it means to be a refugee. Faye shares complex ideas of belonging, nationality, and politics through a youthful lens. Great and thought-provoking read!

  • APO, AP

    This was a short, yet powerful book about 10-year-old​ Gaby growing up in idyllic Burundi. Everything changes when the genocide in Rwanda begins and his childhood is cruelly taken away from him.

  • Madisonville, KY

    The narrator weaves the best of childhood explorations and the worst of a war laden country. Deep, agonizing suffering, survival. I feel like I know him, I worry about him, Hope the best for him.

  • Indianapolis, IN

    Small Country by Gaël Faye was a surprisingly gripping read that I struggled to put down until I’d devoured the entire thing. I was absolutely hooked and highly recommended this phenomenal book!

  • Houston, TX

    An easy read and poignant dive into the Rwanda and Burundi genocides as told from the eyes of a French-Rwandan child. The ending leaves you thoughtful and with deep empathy for the main character.

  • Riverside, CA

    A combination of 2 stories, this coming of age story gives a new perspective of a different experience. Relateable and powerful. It's a small but mighty read that will stick with you for a while.

  • Woodbridge , VA

    Such a moving and important novel. This book creatively covers a topic that I feel is not discussed enough, so for me it opened my eyes to a part of world history that I did not know much about.

  • Shreveport, LA

    Haunting and emotionally rich. Takes a famous and tragic chapter in history, and presents it from a much different POV than what I've read before. Educational, gave me chills, highly recommend.

  • St. Petersburg, FL

    The book was both interesting for someone interested in travel literature and politics. I value the insight I gained about the Rwandan genocide, but also that gained about life before and after.

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