Small Country: A Novel by Gaël Faye, Thoughts and Reflections

I had to stop writing because I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer. I’ve been crying for a while now while reading Gaël Faye’s Small Country as his main character, Gabriel, was writing his letter for his late-cousin, Christian, who had become one of the many unfortunate victims of the Tutsi genocide. Faye’s eloquence in describing the lost innocence and childhood as Gabriel’s got slowly entangled in the Rwandan genocide, although far away in Burundi, from a privileged perspective as a mixed race kid with a French father and a Rwandan mother who was lucky enough to escape her homeland to Burundi and sought asylum.

Initially, of course, Gaby’s innocence is shown all over from his privilege and ignorance of the world and the people surrounding him, the privilege that makes me want to slap this kid for real if I ever encountered one. Then again, when we were kids, how could we not be ignorant? We were born ignorant in the first place–a blank piece of paper only to be written by the environment and the people we’re living in and with.

And even as Gabriel slowly realized the reality of the war entangling his mother’s homeland in Rwanda and his own in Burundi, he still somewhat insist on escaping it, finding refuge in Madame Economopoulos’ books he frequented more and more in the latter chapter.

From the very beginning, we already see and feel the stark contrast of what I, again, see as a privilege, in the background of Gabriel’s parents. His father, Michel, eager for more adventures in the exotic African continent he’s built his life on, and his mother, longing instead for a life free of fear, and home of safety, for herself and her children, in the utopian European continent.

Where you see gently undulating hills, I see the poverty of the people who live there. Where you marvel at the beautiful lakes, I’m already breathing in the methane that sleeps below those waters. You fled the peace and quiet of your France to seek out adventure in Africa.
You came here from Europe in search of a playground where you could eke out the dreams of your spoiled childhood in the West…


It wouldn’t be fair for me to overgeneralize, but I can relate as much as hearing the same things from Europeans coming over to my own country sometimes, which oftentimes puzzle me and my friends who mostly dream of leaving the country instead and build our future in the utopian America or Europe (well, not so much for the former anymore now…) Somehow in the midst of chaos that me and my friends usually try to escape and avoid, they see the beauty in it instead, and the chaos have given them the adrenaline rush they feel they need, something that seems to be lacking from their neatly ordered home country in the West.

Yet even his parents’ connections and wealth could not protect Gabriel forever from the turbulence coming to his neighborhood, and they seeped deep not only into his family, but also his childhood friends. Slowly his relatives are either killed or missing, even when initially things seemed to be looking up. The rift between his parents that was brought up in the earlier chapters now seemed like a trivial matter in comparison. The loss affected them, but especially his mother.

Genocide is an oil slick: those who don’t drown in it are polluted for life.

It broke up the brotherhood he’s built with his childhood friends and they slowly took side and forced him too as well. And when Gabriel chose the world inside his readings, he not only managed to tune out the disorder of his now broken world, but it disconnected him too from his friends.

I was from a place, surrounded by family, friends, acquaintances and by warmth. I have found that place again, but it is empty of those who populated it, who gave it life and body and flesh.


It’s a sad and heartbreaking recount of a lost childhood, in a very twisted turn of events because of the ethnic conflicts, and only because, as mentioned by Gabriel’s father: “Because they don’t have the same nose.”
And it is unfortunately true in other parts of the worlds, not only in Rwanda. When I think about what Faye had written there, my mind somehow jumped instead to the current mass protests in Hong Kong. Of course it is not a war, but the current political protest itself has divided the country and generations–putting it very generally: between deciding who started the violence and riots first, was it the protesters or the police? Parents fear for their kids’ safety (I believe the young protesters too), but at the same time worrying about their future. Or those who think that this protest simply causes more harm and that it should stop anyway.
Of course, this is a different level to the Rwandan genocide, but at its core, war itself is a conflict, and conflict is caused by many different reasons, sometimes something very trivial.

In Indonesia alone, many conflicts has risen due to the differences in ethnic or religion–oftentimes, these two causes are intertwined.

I ended up googling about the genocide itself (putting them on the list of place with museums I’d like to visit, of course, maybe in the next lifetime), and I don’t know which one kills me more: The recount of the genocide itself, the details of the atrocities happening, the sexual violence, or the fact that by now, the genocide is commemorated in the country, wept, and acknowledged. Yes, I am comparing to the massacres happening in my own country following the 30 September Movement, the anti-communist purge that took place between the course of 1965-1967, killing 800,000~2 million people, a figure that no one, until today could really put a pin on, because eventually there are just so many murders, mass graves, brothers killing each others, neighbors turned on one another, shifting allegiance, and killing under the pressure of you kill or be killed. In the Rwandan genocide, however, I read even in Faye’s book on killings that I’d perceive as revenge killings (this then brought to my mind Bersiap, of course, where prisoners of wars and people of Dutch origins in Indonesia, of Eurasian descents were killed in retaliation after Indonesia declared independence–and still not many Indonesians are even aware that this event ever took place).

The Nyamata Genocide Memorial Centre used a former church located south of Kigali to commemorate the genocide. Denying it is considered a crime in Rwanda.

How are the Indonesian governments still insist and successfully persist on denying the 1965 killings? How are we so far left behind, and are we ever going to be able to catch up?

By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho

Just a little intermezzo before I continued with another Bird by Bird Journal, this is a little confession that I’m about to reveal: I never actually read Paulo Coelho’s blog despite the fact that I put the link on my blogroll on my sidebar.

I kept telling myself that I would read it soon, only to open the blog and then glanced it quickly before finally closing the window.

Yep, I’m a procrastinator. Again.

But anyway, I just read it today, and I stumbled across this post, where it contains an excerpt from one of his novel By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. The second line of the excerpt captured me right away:

“We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.

Oh, so true.

So I continued reading, and as usual, I let myself to be amazed by each lines which were arranged beautifully, sentence by sentence.

Then I go to the link below the article, which lead to where I found out that I could just buy a used paperback version of this book for only less than US$ 1.00

One problem, though: I don’t own any credit card, and I have only one buck in my PayPal account, which I never use.

Sorry, credit card is not a very common thing in my country. As well as insurance.

Anyway, as I’d usually read everything that I see, I read the book description. The plot summary strikes me as the plot resembles Gaarder’s The Castle in the Pyrenees so much. Well, at least that’s the impression I get from reading the book description. Pyrenees. Two lovers. And there would definitely be a lot of ponderings, and thought about religion and belief.

Interesting. Very interesting.

No. Wait a minute. It’s not the complete title.

By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept: A Novel of Forgiveness

Awww, shoot. Really?

I suddenly feel like I’m not gonna like this book at all.

Well, of course, that’s a stupid hunch. And not that I hate forgiveness. Really. That’s not the problem. In fact, I believe that forgiveness is the most beautiful thing that could ever happened to anyone (other than love, if you believe in one). But ‘A Novel of Forgiveness’ could also mean a tearjerker.

Uh-oh. I hate tearjerker.

Another thing is when I read the review, I found that it might not be that similar to Gaarder’s The Castle in The Pyrenees.

Just in case you haven’t read The Castle In The Pyrenees, let me tell you this: I LOVE that book.

It’s a philosophical novel (just like Gaarder’s other works) about two ex-lover who bumped into each other after 30 years. Each of them have married someone else and have a family of their own, but they decided the reunion to be a rare and valuable opportunity, so they agreed on exchanging emails.

Through these emails, Gaarder presented a massive debate about life, God, and beliefs.

The guy, Steinn, is an intellectual who at the same time is an atheist, while Solrun, is the opposite: superstitious and religious. Those two different characters alone already make the story interesting.

Another thing that makes me really in awe with Jostein Gaarder is how he started this debate: Was their reunion a coincidence, or a fate? Of course Solrun said that it’s a fate while Steinn told her otherwise.

It’s definitely a thought-provoking book for me, not to mention (and babble) why I love Gaarder’s works so bad, and it ended rather unexpectedly as well. As usual, Gaarder never really disappoint me.

But I don’t wanna get sidetracked here. I didn’t write this to talk about The Castle in The Pyrenees.

Of course there’s no two novels that are exactly the same, but still, from what I read in the book description, this book seems to ponder over the same theme. Similar, at least. And yes, I’m very interested to read it. Soon. Someday. Arrrgghh, I don’t know when, but I will save it in my list for later.

The thing is that, the last part of the title kinda makes me reluctant to actually read it. Other than the fact that it’s a tearjerker, it seems like it’s gonna be a very religious book.

What I really like about Gaarder is that he could be religious by putting some Christian values and beliefs here and there, but in the end, he never actually stated which one is right and which one is wrong. He didn’t strike me as an author who’d try to Christianize his readers.

Good thing.

Well, I believe Coelho’s not trying to Christianize anyone here, but still, a book of forgiveness… man, it’s seems so heavy to me.

Then I read a review which gives me a clearer description of the story, then I thought, “Man, this is gonna be way heavier than Gaarder’s The Castle In The Pyrenees.” How so? The review clearly put it as ‘poetic,’ ‘artistic and almost dreamlike.’ It’s definitely not something that you could read lightly while you’re idling at work. Not to mention the number of distraction that might occur. And the characters in the book includes ‘The Other’, which is described as “the part of each of our psyches that manifests itself as fear, regret, and other counterproductive emotional responses that prevents us from achieving our full potential as human beings.” What the hell is that supposed to mean anyway? Even the description of this “The Other” already struck me as complicated. This is definitely a book to be read when you actually have enough leisure time to be with yourself and maybe with a cup of coffee or two.

Well, but again, it might be me being terrified and freaked out by the description alone. Maybe I’m just freaking out too much. Maybe when I actually read the book, it’s not as complicated as I thought it was.

Has anyone read this book already? Would you guys care to share your thoughts and opinion about this book? No spoiler, though, please (although I wouldn’t mind a little teaser on the plot). I would really appreciate any thought or opinion you share.

A Little Bit on ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ – Michel Faber

I’ve been reading The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber for a couple of days, and I made a reaaaaally slow progress because I got so easily distracted.

And, God, I miss blogging.

Anyways, I love Michel Faber. I mean, I never even heard his name before I read this (or perhaps I have heard? And it’s only my poor memory made me forgot that I’ve even heard his name or read his other masterpieces?), and the first time I opened the book (after I bought the book looooong-long time ago), read the first page, the first sentence struck me already:

Watch your step.

That’s it. That’s all. That’s exactly the very first sentence that I quote from the book. At first, I thought, “What kind of opening is this, seriously?” It seems like a bad joke to me. But after I continued reading, it struck me more and more.

I love the way he played with words. Really.

I’m not an expert in literature, nor that I’m a literature addict. I juz love reading and I love to read how words can be combined with other words beautifully. It’s just like decorating your own house or your room–or anything that you like most!

After I move on to Part 2, I began to like him even more. I haven’t able to figure out where this story would lead to, but some opinions he put inside the book through the character really made me laugh.

Ironic. Sarcasm. Yet so true to me and real. And wonderfully arranged in sentences which would never seem enough for me to quote them here.

What would God, or the Force of Nature, or whatever is supposed to be holding the Universe together, possibly have in mind, by making it so difficult to be clean inside? What, in the grand scheme of things, is so uniquely precious about piss, shit or the makings of another pompous little man, that it should be permitted to cling to her innards so tenaciously?

‘God damn God,’ she whispers, tensing and untensing her pelvic muscles, ‘and all His horrible filthy creation.’

–Sugar, p. 133-134

‘Well,’ she sigh, ‘If only it could be resolved once and for all where we come from: from Adam, or from Mr. Darwin’s apes.’ — Mrs. Fox, p. 192

‘…”I know all about it, miss,” they say. “We’re to choose who was our grandparents: two monkeys or two naked innocents in the garden.” And they laugh, for both strike them as equally ridiculous.’ — Mrs. Fox, p. 192

Maybe I’m exaggerating. As soon as I finished reading the book someday (and I dunno when will that’ someday’ come), perhaps I’d regret posting this, and feelin how ridiculous I have been.

But let’s put those thoughts aside for now.

Let’s assume that I’m so into Michel Faber’s words right now.

Let’s assume how I become so in love with the way Michel Faber arranged the words and the sentences.

Oops, I forgot another part that I love. One of my fave one:

Sugar leans her chins against the knuckles of the hand that holds the pen. Glistening on the page between her silk-shrouded elbows lies an unfinished sentence. The heroine of her novel has just slashed the throat of a man. The problem is how, precisely, the blood will flow. Flow is too gentle a word; spill implies carelessness; spurt is out of the question because she has used the word already, in another context, a few lines earlier. Pour out implies that the man has some control over the matter, which he most emphatically doesn’t; leak is too feeble for the savagery of the injury she has inflicted upon him. …

Spew, she writes, having finally been given, by tardy Providence, the needful word. …

Only a word! A single word; where one of the lead character, a prostitute named Sugar, who turns out to be intelligent, and was writing a novel, was trying to pick the right word! Michel Faber put it in a quite long 2-3 paragraphs.

Maybe I was exaggerating.

But seriously, I love it.