The mass killings that took place in Rwanda in the spring of 1994 form the core of Gaël Faye’s Small Country, a miraculous story of before and after, of innocence shattered and of surviving the transformation of paradise into hell.
Already an international bestseller and the winner of multiple awards, Small Country, ably translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone, tells the story of 10-year-old Gabriel living in Burundi with his family. Life is easy in the comfortable expatriate suburb, and even after Gaby’s parents separate, he and his band of friends spend their days stealing mangoes and smoking cigarettes. Though rumors of ethnic tensions rumble over from the Rwandan border, nothing threatens their carefree spirits.
This changes abruptly when war breaks out. Rumors of horrific violence turn into killings in Gaby’s own town, and even his own street. Gaby’s mother, who had traveled to Rwanda to find her brother and aunt, returns forever changed. The divide between Hutu and Tutsi proves insurmountable, and the lessons learned by Gaby and his friends are brutal.
Like his protagonist, Faye was born in Burundi to a French father and Rwandan mother. Faye’s family moved to France after the Rwandan genocide in 1995. Small Country is his first novel, but he’s had previous success as a songwriter and rapper, with songs that uniquely bridge the gap between French pop and African beats. Like Faye’s music, Small Country packs multiple experiences into a small space. The end of childhood, the demands of family and the coming of war, all seen through the eyes of a young person, are told simply and soulfully in under 200 pages.