Sunday, 10 June 2018

Small Country by Gael Faye

Small Country by Gael Faye
First published in French as Petit Pays in France by Editions Grasset in 2016. English language translation by Sarah Ardizzone published by Hogarth Press on the 7th June 2018.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Swimming

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £10.42 (HB)
Wordery : from £9.91 (HB)
Waterstones : from £12.99 (HB)
Amazon : from $10.67 / £7.99 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Burundi, 1992. For ten-year-old Gabriel, life in his comfortable expat neighbourhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother and little sister, Ana, is something close to paradise. These are happy, carefree days spent with his friends sneaking cigarettes and stealing mangoes, swimming in the river and riding bikes in the streets they have turned into their kingdom. But dark clouds are gathering over this small country, and soon their peaceful idyll will shatter when Burundi and neighbouring Rwanda are brutally hit by war and genocide.

A haunting and luminous novel of extraordinary power, Small Country describes a devastating end of innocence as seen through the eyes of a young child caught in the maelstrom of history. It is a stirring tribute not only to a time of tragedy, but also to the bright days that came before it.

Small Country is a fairly short book, but one with a strong sense of its setting. At times I almost felt as though I was reading an autobiography because even cameo characters are vividly portrayed. Small Country does have elements in common with The Girl Who Smiled Beads (Clementine Wamariya) and The Running Man (Gilbert Tuhabonye) because of their Rwandan and Burundian war narratives, but I found this novel interesting because of its very different points of view towards the wars and resulting genocide.

Gabriel and his family live, essentially, in a white community so although his Maman is a black Rwandan woman, Gabriel's outlook is more guided by his white French Papa. The attitudes displayed by of most of the whites are frankly sickening and I quickly despised Papa for the way he spoke to Maman. This distancing of themselves from the country in which they live and in particular Papa's insistence on his children not learning about what is happening beyond his proscribed limits means Gabriel's childhood is even more of a fragile bubble than for most children I think, and the anticipation of that bubble bursting provides much of the tension within the story.

My only problem with this book, which is the same problem I had with Ponti (Sharlene Teo) is that Gabriel's story wasn't the most interesting one for me. Maman is a far more complex and conflicted character, yet she is often pushed aside by the author as well as by her family! However, overall, I enjoyed reading Small Country and look forward to discovering more of Faye's writing in due course.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Gael Faye / Contemporary fiction / Books from Rwanda


  1. I've not read a book in that setting so I'm curious now. What a bummer that the most fascinating character for you didn't get as much page time. I've had that happen a few times where I liked a side story more than the main one.

    Great review, Stephanie!

  2. This sounds like a great non-fiction book to read, glad you enjoyed it!
    Tori @ In Tori Lex

  3. This sounds really interesting! I'm glad to hear you thought it had a strong sense of place. That's one of the main things I really enjoy in a nonfiction piece that's set somewhere besides where I live. That's what I'm mostly looking to get out of those types of books, actually, so I think I'll have to add this to my TBR :) Lovely review, Stephanie!

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

    1. I hope you get to read Small Country. I think you would appreciate it :-)