It's 1992. Gabriel is ten years old. He lives in Bujumbura, Burundi with his French father, his Rwandan mother, and his little sister, Ana. He goes to school in the morning and roams the neighborhood with his friends in the afternoon stealing mangoes to sell. He swims in the river and takes trips to Lake Kivu with his family. And he has no idea that his idyllic childhood is about to end. First with his parents' separation. Then when his friends get caught up in the growing tensions between the Hutus and the Tutsis. But everything really falls apart when the Rwandan genocide begins, and the violence from it starts to spill over into Burundi, too.
"The earth had moved imperceptibly beneath our feet. It did so every day in this country, in this corner of the world. We were living on the axis of the Great Rift, at the precise spot where Africa fractures. The people of this region mirrored the land. Beneath the calm appearance, behind the facade of smiles and optimistic speeches, dark underground forces were continuously at work, fomenting violence and destruction that returned for successive periods like bad winds: 1965, 1972, 1988. A glowering uninvited ghost showing up at regular intervals to remind us that peace is merely a brief interlude between two wars. We didn't know it yet, but the hour of the inferno had come, and the night was about to unleash its cackle of hyenas and wild dogs."At its heart, Small Country is a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of genocide and war. Gabriel's loss of innocence is especially touching when he confronts his friends about their growing hatred for the Hutus and tells them he doesn't want to have to pick a side, or go to war. He just wants life to go back to the way it was. But deep down he knows that can never happen. This story is so poignant and touching. I loved the poetry of Faye's writing, and his vibrant portrayal of life in Africa. Gabriel's voice is so clear and authentic--I loved him, too. At only 183 pages, Small Country is a small novel that packs quite a punch. And I'm so glad that I read it.