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Book of the week: Small Country by Gaël Faye

Small Country (Penguin) by Gaël Faye and translated by Sarah Ardizzone is today's Book of the week and June's Book of the Month. This Goncourt des lycéens Prize winner is the breathtaking story of Gabriel, a ten-year old child living in 1992 in a comfortable expat neighbourhood in Burundi. Partly autobiographical, this novel is a vivid description of the end of a harmonious childhood overwhelmed by the war in Rwanda.

Burundi, 1992. For ten-year-old Gabriel, life in his comfortable expat neighbourhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother and little sister, Ana, is something close to paradise. These are happy, carefree days spent with his friends sneaking cigarettes and stealing mangoes, swimming in the river and riding bikes in the streets they have turned into their kingdom. But dark clouds are gathering over this small country, and soon their peaceful idyll will shatter when Burundi and neighbouring Rwanda are brutally hit by war and genocide.

A haunting and luminous novel of extraordinary power, Small Country describes a devastating end of innocence as seen through the eyes of a young child caught in the maelstrom of history. It is a stirring tribute not only to a time of tragedy, but also to the bright days that came before it.


French-Rwandan Gaël Faye is an author, composer and hip hop artist. He was born in 1982 in Burundi, and has a Rwandan mother and French father. In 1995, after the outbreak of the civil war and the Rwandan genocide, the family moved to France. Gaël studied finance and worked in London for two years for an investment fund, then he left London to embark on a career of writing and music.

He is as influenced by Creole literature as he is by hip hop culture, and released an album in 2010 with the group Milk Coffee & Sugar. In 2013, his first solo album, Pili Pili sur un Croissant au Beurre, appeared. It was recorded between Bujumbura and Paris, and is filled with a plethora of musical influences: rap laced with soul and jazz, semba, Congolese rumba... In 2018 he received the prestigious Victoires de la Musique Award.

Small Country is his first novel. It was a huge bestseller in France, winning the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens 2016, and is being published in thirty territories worldwide.

Sarah Ardizzone is an award-winning translator. She received the Scott-Moncrieff Prize in 2007 for her translation of Faïza Guène’s Just Like Tomorrow, and has twice won the Marsh Prize for Children’s Literature in Translation, in 2005 for Daniel Pennac’s Eye of the Wolf and in 2009 for Toby Alone by Timothée de Fombelle. Her recent highly praised translations include Joann Sfar’s graphic novel version of The Little Prince, which was a New York Times Notable Book. She lives in South London.

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