24 Sep / Small Country by Gaël Faye, translated by Sarah Ardizzone [in Library Journal]
French singer/rapper Gaël Faye transforms his own background into an impressive, searing coming-of-age first novel about a Burundian family’s implosion during the 1990s. What seemed like an idyllic, privileged childhood for 10-year-old Gabriel – made memorable by mischievous adventures with close friends – begins to unravel with the harsh discord cleaving his French father from his Rwandan mother. His parents’ personal disintegration mirrors Burundi’s political chaos, the terror and tragedy exacerbated by the Tutsi/Hutu genocide exploding next door in Rwanda. Alliances, loyalties, even passports become moot: the massacres leave few unscathed.
Gaby bears witness, his distress growing over his unreliable parents, confusion about his own mixed-race identity, and shock at the unrelenting casual violence even among his tween companions. He finds temporary respite in books offered by a neighbor, but little can assuage the horrors around him. Escape comes at an exorbitantly high price.
Chimerical narrator Dominic Hoffman embodies youthful Gaby with a chilling mix of exuberance and fear; he’s equally affecting as Gaby’s elders – from dismissive colonial expats and demanding foreigners to abusive militia and petrified victims. With the novel already an internationally best-selling, major prize-winning achievement, this indelible audio edition should be widely available.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult