Often referred to as mirrors or windows, books carry the power of transporting the reader, reflecting or opening experiences. Shifting between the present and past, Gaël Faye’s novel, Small Country, takes us from France to Burundi and Rwanda in the early nineties. The novel depicts childhood growing up in a multicultural family, coping with political unrest and seeking refuge in another country. Sarah Ardizzone translated this novel from French into English, furthering new audiences across the world to remember genocide and war.
The story begins with Gaby, the narrator, describing his present life in Paris, detached—nowhere feeling like home. He recounts his dating experiences, sharing he does not define his identity. Perceived differences dehumanized one group, igniting genocide throughout the region. Early on in the story, he receives a phone call asking him to return to Burundi, an undertaking threading his past to the present.
Through fiction, we feel his surroundings affected by the hostilities remaining after colonialism. Gradual changes break into conflict, in the midst of his parents’ separation. Gaby’s father is French and his mother is Rwandan. Her immediate family fled Rwanda in 1963, after a night of massacres. Throughout the book, Gaby notices the pull between his parents’ vastly distinctive worldviews.
Before conflict occurs, Faye weaves in anecdotes relating to anyone’s childhood in tracking down his missing bike, writing to pen pals as a class project, and sneaking mangoes from neighbors’ backyards with his friends. Gradually, tension rises as the country prepares to elect the President of the Republic in Burundi. What occurs next for the country leads young Gaby to long periods of nervously waiting at home, school cancellations and violence breaking out nearby. Faye’s writing poetically depicts a childhood interrupted by war, genocide and loss.
Recommended to Whom: Liberal arts students, readers of The Girl Who Smiled Beads and viewers of Netflix’s Black Earth Rising
Source: My husband, who read this book in French and pointed out the English translation at a local bookshop