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Small Country by Gaël Faye
Literary fiction

Small Country


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Gaël Faye, on your first book!

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by Gaël Faye

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Quick take

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

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“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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Why I love it

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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Member ratings (2,079)

  • SarahEvan C.

    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

  • Karen C.

    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

  • Erin S.

    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.

  • Annaliese O.

    Taylorsville, 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.

  • andrea K.

    Chicago, IL

    A concise and powerful coming-of-age tale set in Burundi about home and the loss of innocence. With lyrical prose and deep sympathy for every character, it’ll break your heart yet leave you hopeful.

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