Small Country
digital download. 6:02 hrs. Books on Tape. Jun. 2018. $57.
ISBN 9780525633600. Audio

In this debut, French singer/rapper Faye transforms his own background into an impressive, searing coming-of-age novel about a Burundian family’s implosion during the 1990s. What seemed like an idyllic, privileged childhood for ten-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.

VERDICT With the novel already an internationally best-selling, major prize–winning achievement, this indelible audio edition should be widely available. [“Faye eloquently speaks to the untenable choices, among love of country, family, or survival, that victims in conflict zones are forced to make”: LJ 4/15/18 review of the ­Hogarth: Crown hc.]

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