I definitely picked this book up for its gorgeous cover. Once I dove into the plot, however, I found that this is a story I have not read before, a unique look at the Rwandan war and genocide from the perspective of a 10 year old boy living in the small neighboring country of Burundi. This is 1992, and Gabriel spends a lot of his time out with his friends riding his bike or stealing mangoes off his neighbor’s trees. He doesn’t understand what the fuss is about the difference between the Hutus and Tutsis.
This is not exactly a novel for kids, as there is a lot of vulgar imagery, in my opinion, and some intense graphically violent scenes, although if your kid is mature and has a support system to process these things, go ahead. This book contains parts of history that affected and traumatized so many children, should not have been a part of their lives, and for that we must listen to their story.
This story starts out innocent enough, as Gabriel and Ana live with their mother and father in a comfortable neighborhood. They have a cook and a driver, who they have developed strong relationships with. However, as time goes on, things start falling away from their usual way of life, as Hutus and Tutsis begin having more and more conflict closer to Gabriel’s home. They go to visit their cousins and aunt in Rwanda, and offer to bring some of the family members back with them to safety.
Finally, about mid-way through the book, war breaks out in Burundi as well and things head south really quickly. Gabriel has to confront his fears and decide what values he wants to move forward with. His friends turn aggressive in times of war, and he’s not sure if he wants to continue spending time with them or not. He turns to books, which I love, and struck up an unexpected relationship with one of his elder neighbors. He finds hope in the pages of the stories that take him away from the war, but also connect with himself on an emotional level, and he begins to open up and talk about his feelings in new ways. I would have loved to have heard more from this perspective, but I also recognize that the details are not necessarily important to the overall plot. “But no matter how much hope I held out, my dreams were fettered by reality. The world and its violence were closing in on us a little more each day.”
Written in first person, I found myself connecting to this 10 year old boy in ways I could not have expected. Faye elicited deep empathy for this character and his family, and I felt my heart wrench as war continued to effect them in new and unexpected ways. “When we leave somewhere, we take the time to say goodbye: to the people, the things and the places that we’ve loved. I didn’t leave my country, I fled it. I left the door wide open behind me and I walked away, without turning back.”
This is an incredibly moving novel told in a perspective I never thought to look into, and I’m grateful I found it and picked it up. This book has definitely changed my way of thinking, and for that I am grateful. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to learn something new and experience some emotions. Gael Faye grew up in Burundi in the 80’s and 90’s to a Rwandan mother and French father, like Gabriel in his book. His book rings some semi-autobiographical notes in its telling, and feels all the more genuine for the authors connection to this serious story, as well as moving when Gabriel is able to find beauty in small things throughout his world falling apart.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.