“Here, we’re privileged. There, we’re nobodies.” – A white expat husband tells his black Rwandan wife the stark reality of their life in Burundi as opposed to his native France in the 1990s. But the underlying message is that she needs to turn her back on the lower class Burundians and to ‘know her place.’ In a fight that had been brewing for years, a stark utterance causes a wife to leave her husband and children. Yet, Gaby’s father insists that the privilege of a private school, a gated house, and servants would never be possible if the family lived in France.
A family wedding, the search for a stolen bike, a crocodile hunt, a plan to steal mangos. Gaby’s life growing up in the mostly upperclass section of the capital city of Bujumbura is comfortable, but civil war strikes both Gaby’s home country and his mother’s Rwanda at the same time. Between the conflict in the family and the fights erupting in the streets, Gaby is pulled in many directions: family, loyalty, and youth.
Faye writes a terrific narrator with an authentic and realistic voice. Gaby sees and internalizes all aspects of a life that is quickly swirling around him. The neighborhood friendships and rivalries, Gaby’s mother’s strong political ties vs his father’s attempt to stay neutral, the promise and hope of democracy in the first elections in the country in 30 years. These are all told from the perspective of a young boy who only seeks to find his own identity in the troubling times of adolescence. Is he Rwandan, is he French, is he Burundian?
Small Country is a beautiful book that is filled with perfectly drawn anecdotes that tie Gaby’s young life together. It is a powerful story that tells of a world that can be raw and bleak yet full of innocence. I can see why this novel is so popular in France and can predict it will have many fans here in the US. Highly recommended.
Btw I wrote this review while streaming Faye’s music. I really like his songs too.
5 out of 5 stars
Releases June 5th, 2018.
Thank you to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, and Gaël Faye for the advanced copy for review.