Book Review – Small Country

Small Country

I don’t know why Book of the Month offered a second book revolving around the Rwandan genocide the month after The Girl Who Smiled Beads was offered, but thank you. I was so impacted by Clemantine’s true story in The Girl Who Smiled Beads, that it left me craving more. A genocide happened in my lifetime and I knew very little about it, let alone the personal stories of any survivors. These two books pair together so well, a female’s true story of her fleeing, and then a male’s novel based on the true story of his fleeing. One focused on the fleeing, the other on his life leading up to the fleeing. Together, they gave me a new perspective on life in Rwanda/Burundi before, during and after the genocide and the effects of war on a child, a country and a culture. I only wish I could have read Small Country first.

Book 15:
Small Country
by Gaël Faye

Coming-of-Age Fiction, Literary fiction

June 2018

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Small Country is based on the true story of the author, Gaël Faye, born to a Rwandan mother and a French father, living in Burundi Africa until the age of 13 when his family fled the genocide to France in 1995. The main character, Gaby, opens up to the reader the world of a child living in beautiful Burundi, pre-civil war, innocent, happy and culturally content. And then it’s the story of a child forced to grow up to soon – forced to protect his family and neighborhood, to witness violence and war, to flee and to find peace in his identity and his relationship with his country.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Genocide is an oil slick: those who don’t drown in it are polluted for life.”

―Gaël Faye, Small Country

“The more I prayed, the more God abandoned us, and the more faith I had in his strength. God makes us undergo these ordeals so we can prove to him that we don’t doubt him. It’s as if he’s telling us that great love relies on trust. We shouldn’t doubt the beauty of things, not even under a torturing sky. If you aren’t surprised by the cockerel’s crow or the light above the mountain ridge, if you don’t believe in the goodness of your soul, then you’re not striving anymore, and it’s as if you were already dead.”

―Gaël Faye, Small Country

“Of course a book can change you. It can even change your life. It’s like falling in love. And you never know when such an encounter might happen. You should beware of books, they’re like sleeping genies.”

―Gaël Faye, Small Country

“When we leave somewhere, we take the time to say goodbye: to the people, the things, and the places that we’ve loved. I didn’t leave my country, I fled it. The door was wide open behind me as I walked away, without turning back.”

―Gaël Faye, Small Country

Awards (based upon my brief research – these were all awarded to the original, French translation in 2016):
Prix Goncourt des Lycéens
Goncourt List, Choice of the Orient
Goncourt List, Tunisia’s Choice
Goncourt List, Poland’s Choice
Goncourt List, Serbia’s Choice


My Overall Rating:
4.5 – This is another one that just punched me in the gut. I realized, once again, that I could rate books on how likely I am to hug them when I finish them, because, again, I just wanted to give it a hug. I absolutely loved getting a glimpse into the “good” part of childhood in Burundi – childhood before the height of civil war in 1994. Then, Faye did an amazing job of stripping away the innocence of childhood in his main character, Gaby, and exposing, in him, the ways such a traumatic experience can change the very identity of a person.

I neglected to give that final .5 simply because I would have liked to know more details about the conclusion. Though I know this was not the point of the book, the actual fleeing part of the book was so short. I thought we might at least learn how it was set up or what the first moments in France were like. But regardless… 

Read. This. Book.

But here’s what I would truly recommend: read Small Country, then The Girl Who Smiled Beads and then Night by Elie Wiesel (review here). This combination has changed my life. I’m thoroughly convinced I’m a better person for having been exposed to these stories, having grappled with them and having allowed myself to think, change my mind, and think again.