‘Small Country’ by Gael Faye/A Review

Small Country by Gael Faye
Translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Publisher: Hogarth Press
Length: 185 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: June 2018

I got my hands on Small Country as a Book of the Month selection for the month of May 2018. I was immediately intrigued by the story: a story that details the tragic events of the Rwandan genocide of the mid 90s through the eyes of a child. I immediately wanted to read it, yet one thing led to another (busy work schedule, other reading interests, etc.), and I didn’t picked it up until this week, when The Reading Rush readathon began. Once I did begin the novel, I finished it in a day.

     Small Country follows the life of Gabriel (Gaby), a 10 year old child living in an expatriate neighborhood in Burundi. A child of a French father and an Rwandan mother, Gaby lives in an area that faces intense political climates and ethnic hostilities between the Hutu and Tutsi citizens. These factors rest in the background at the beginning of the story, as Gaby lives with the daily struggles that encompass most children: Daily school life, forming close friendships, and connecting with close family. All of this changes as the community takes part in their first act of democracy in 1993, electing their first president. What follows next details the horrific events of assassination and genocide, leaving Gaby and his family struggling to live their daily life in an undeclared war zone.

     Gael Faye writes Small Country from his experiences growing up in an expatriate neighborhood in Burundi himself during the 90s. He deftly writes this debut novel in such an unflinching voice. He described Gaby as a young man struggling to keep his child-like innocence alive while the childhood of his friend evolves into a brotherhood of struggle. Gaby has the love of his sister and other friends in the community to maintain his spirit, yet it falls constantly at odds with the ever changing political climate, the mindset of his social circle shifting with the times.

     Small Country also speaks of the effects Western countries have on Burundi and Rwanda. Gabe’s parents deal with the differences between life in Burundi and the more relaxed atmosphere of France. Burundi and Rwanda are heavily influenced by French control, yet many of the native citizens are held under servitude. While Gaby and his friends are sheltered from the topic of slavery, his mother (who is of Rwandan decent) frequently reminds her children that their comfortable living is an exception to the norm.  

     Indeed, this book was difficult to read as it handles the topic of death through genocide. As the book progresses, it shifts to a darker view of life as entire neighborhoods and communities are wiped out solely based on their ethnic background. It follows the slow, negative progression of one person in their community as they search for loved ones within a war-torn neighborhood. The mental anguish described as they venture deeper into the unknown is absolutely chilling.

      I found Small Country to be a very fulfilling read. When I was done reading this story, I sat with it for a bit a took a deep breath. It’s truly heartbreaking that people can be singled out and murdered because they are a different ethnicity. The fact that such crimes are still committed this present day are equally saddening. We can only stay aware of these tragedies and be thankful that there are places where their voices can be heard.     

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Reading Rush Blog #1

For the first day of The Reading Rush, I decided to fulfill the challenge ‘Read a book that you meant to read last year’, and that book was ‘Small Country’ by Gael Faye. It tells the story of war and tragedy through the eyes of Gaby, a 10 year old boy living in an expatriate neighborhood near Rwanda. It’s a short, yet powerful read as it confronts the reality of war and genocide in vivid detail. Thr book also has moments of innocence as Gaby and his younger sister attempt to live normal lives with their family and friends.

I’m glad that I finally picked up reading ‘Small Country’!

My Reading Rush TBR

I’ve been hearing so much about The Reading Rush (happening from July 22-28), I figured that I should give it a shot. Even though I don’t have a Booktube channel, I love taking part in readathons in general. I’ll blog about my progress throughout the week.

Here is my TBR list for The Reading Rush:

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 456 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: June 4, 2019

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.



The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
Publisher: Scribner Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 371 pages
Release Date: March 21, 2017

In their remote mountain village, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. For the Akha people, ensconced in ritual and routine, life goes on as it has for generations—until a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of the villagers has ever seen.

The stranger’s arrival marks the first entrance of the modern world in the lives of the Akha people. Slowly, Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, begins to reject the customs that shaped her early life. When she has a baby out of wedlock—conceived with a man her parents consider a poor choice—she rejects the tradition that would compel her to give the child over to be killed, and instead leaves her, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a nearby city.

As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins. Across the ocean Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Over the course of years, each searches for meaning in the study of Pu’er, the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for centuries.

A powerful story about circumstances, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond of family.


Small Country by Gael Faye
Length: 183 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hogarth Press
Release Date: June 5, 2018

In 1992, Gabriel, ten years old, lives in Burundi in a comfortable expatriate neighborhood with his French father, his Rwandan mother and his little sister, Ana. In this joyful idyll, Gabriel spends the better part of his time with his mischievous band of friends, in a tiny cul-de-sac they have turned into their kingdom. But their peaceful existence will suddenly shatter when this small African country is brutally battered by history.

In this magnificent coming-of-age story, Gael Faye describes an end of innocence and drives deep into the heart and mind of a young child caught in the maelstrom of history.