Colombiano

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 23 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

An important subject but this didn't work for me as a novel. It reads more like long-form journalism than the voice of a traumatised young man and the emotions of the characters feel quite simplistic. DNF
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What an amazing read! I wasn't sure I could like it more than I did Marching Powder, also by Rusty Young - but I was wrong, I liked it more! The main character, Pedro, gave so much insight into life in Colombia during one of its harshest times, but in a way that inspired laughter and love through darkness and pain. And just when you start to dislike one of his comrades, something occurs to make you either like or respect them again, but then later realizing you were right the first time. It goes to show that this was real life and not some Hollywood vision of what would make a good story. These people are dynamic and caring and conniving and selfish and real - and that's what makes this story one I didn't want to put down. I really hope Rusty Young writes another, the world needs more of his stories!
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This is a story about Pedro, living in a little town of Colombia. Hard to imagine others suffering and struggling just to live day to day, while I'm home in my comfortable house. This book brought to life what it's like to live in communist country, where a person has no rights and lives in fear. I couldn't put this book down.
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The author, well known for his first book Marching Powder, telling to story of an inmate in Bolivia's San Pedro jail, has since spent eight years in Colombia. He worked under cover for the US Government in counter terrorism, interviewing a wide range of people from soldiers and hostages, to those displaced by the fighting. According to the author, the most heartwrenching stories were those of the child soldiers recruited by the two main terrorist organisations - FARC and Autodefensas.

This is a violent, cruel storyline, and the author states it is a work of fiction which is based on the true story of an ex-child soldier. In the authors own words: "Some parts of this story are real. Most are fictionalised and informed by my own experiences and historical research. These children's pasts were complicated and painful. Their stories affected me deeply and changed my life. I felt they needed to be told." It is reasonable to assume the author based his story on an amalgamation of different peoples stories, and he was right to be upfront about the fictional nature. It allows the reader to forgive some of the more dramatic aspects.

Despite being almost 700 pages long, this is still a fast moving, high octane story. Set in Colombia after the removal of Pablo Escobar, it revolves around the civic unrest, corruption where money controls the situation, the cocaine trade and the guerilla insurgents fighting the military and the police, and a private militia. But more it is the impact of this on families and loved ones of the soldiers.

The story is told in the first person, from the perspective of our protagonist, Pedro, who at the start of the book is 15 years old, and is forced to watch his father executed by the guerillas. If this sounds a little too violent for you, chances are you won't get through more than 20 pages before determining this isn't for you. While naive, and easily influenced, Pedro is a character is is easy to sympathise with, aching for his revenge on those who murdered his father, his path is not straight forward.

The story is captivating. It twists and turns, doesn't fail to deliver surprises, and of course revels in revenge and the violence of the life of a paramilitary.

Five stars for fiction is pretty rare for me, but so is cracking through a 700 page book in 4 days, and enjoying it from cover to cover.

5*

Many thanks to Havelock & Baker Publishing for a copy provided in return for a review.
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Rusty Young did a wonderful job capturing my attention in this riveting novel.
Colombiano is a novel based on the real-life experiences of child soldiers in Colombia.
15-year-old Pedro, along with his best friend Paillo introduces us to the lives of Paramilitaries, Guerilla and the Colombian Army.
It's amazing to think of the people who survived such terror daily for so long.
I was rooting for Pedro through the good and the bad.
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For Every Alpha There is a Beta: 

Colombiano not only brings the reader home to the villages in conflict in an emerging middle power country; but it gives you your own cedula (id card) to view that guerrilla warfare through personal relationships. In this coming-of-age story, you see every aspect of the political climate in Colombia on the cusp of the twenty-first century.

Rusty Young turns the concept of war child on end in this immersive and unforgettable novel. Words often have little meaning assigned to them, when alone: Colombia, drug, war, child. But, take any two words and pair them together and you create a concept: drug war, war child. The author takes us deep within the world of the child guerrilla in Colombia, allowing us to see a different side of the war child experience.

After the frame story that begins the book, you begin to hear the story of the Colombiano himself; a young boy of fifteen who witnesses his father’s brutal murder at the hands of FARC guerrillas. He and his mother are banished from their farm, but he defies the order to leave his father unburied. Riddled with self-blame and anger, and a fugitive from men who are killers; he joins a group of anti-insurgents with his best friend to seek ‘justice’ in fighting the guerrillas. From there, the reader follows him over two and a half years from the dark quest for revenge to the light at the end of the tunnel of grief.

    "Field by field, farm by farm, person by person, we were wresting the country back from the Guerrilla’s clutches."



Here you will drag your ideological feet across that grey line between good and evil, testing how far your principles will bend. And, you see the results of crossing that line. While eradicating a community of guerrillas is emotional and satisfying, the price paid for that victory is steep and draining. Young brings to the forefront the ideas of a government’s responsibility to provide infrastructure and safety to its people, and reveals what happens when those tasks are relegated to either local businesses or independent patriot military groups.


As far as mechanics of plot go, I particularly liked the way voice identification was used in military strategy. The tech used was legitimate for that era in Colombia. Character development was rich and deeply satisfying. I found myself laughing and crying with them. Many characters will embed themselves into your heart and remain with you long after you read the last page. The main character begins to see the difference between justice and revenge through the actions of the alpha commander and the beta commander. He is influenced by the morals of his faith, his family, and his friends. He is sustained by his love and respect for his lost father and a desire to return home when all is right in his world. And, he struggles between destroying the men who murdered his father and becoming them.

I also liked that the book was not gratuitously gory or violent. While it is suitable for adults, rather than children because of the realism in guerrilla warfare, it maintains a balance between what can be said and what is necessary for plot. And, some of the worst moments are not witnessed directly by the teenage character, because his superiors keep him at arms-length to permit themselves more barbarity than they know he will be prepared to handle. And, that makes the story more authentic, because it allows the author full license to delve into the psychological faith these children have in a political ideology. The Colombiano believes in what he is doing. He believes he is on the side of justice.

I was given the Kindle format of this book free for review purposes. All my reviews are sincere, and I am selective about the offers I accept. But, I was thrilled to discover this beautiful novel. It is off the path of my Journey Around the World in 80 Books for 2019, but I was so anxious to read it, I sailed from Sudan through the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Gulf for this side trip to Colombia. (I will soon be back on track for Chad though, so wait for it.)

To compare this book to similar books I have read, see the following reviews. Hostage Nation is a macro view of the drug wars in general. Out of Captivity goes deep into the jungles with three hostages, allowing a glimpse of life for government contactors. Even Silence Has an End is also a personal memoir of a hostage, but she is a politician and a writer, and takes you deep into her own soul, allowing you to follow her escape attempts and her inner struggles.

Hostage Nation: Colombia's Guerrilla Army and the Failed War on Drugs by Victoria Bruce https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2302989249?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1 

Out of Captivity: Surviving 1,967 Days in the Colombian Jungle by Marc Gonsalves> https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2303180199?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Even Silence Has an End by Ingrid Betancourt https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2304399223?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1  

Colombiano takes on all these tasks in one book. It is at once down-to-earth and soaring in intensity. It is not a quick read. It not only leaves me longing for the film version, but would easily contain a sequel. I read several chapters each day, for a few days. But, once I reached the first quarter of the book, I read almost nonstop through the Memorial Day weekend. It is difficult to put down once you get into it, so plan accordingly.
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This book is incredibly thick and took a long time to read; and was worth every second. This incredible story, steeped in fact, is engaging, exhilarating and heart wrenching. The characters are defined, realistic and believable, as are the circumstances of their lives and situations. To be able to immerse ourselves in what happens to these kids in countries where terrorist groups abound and are as well known as the locals is amazing and important. This “true story”, which reads like a novel, is timely, smart and a must read!
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A powerfully moving story of a Colombian child-warrior in a narrative that exposes the far left vs far right revolution; the abuses, cocaine trafficking, corruption and tragedies of that terrible period. Based on real events, he reveals how his lack of discipline and temper caused the lives of many innocent lives and the loss of his own innocence. Perhaps somewhat too long, and hampered by a tendency to end chapters with a phrase like "I'd soon learn the cost of my mistake", but readable and absorbing to the last page.
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I went into this read wanting to savor each word and not miss anything because I remembered how good his first book, 'Marching Powder',had been and I was feeling optimistic that this book would be just as good or better. Rusty Young DID NOT disappoint me! (Giving a standing ovation clap). The drama and appeal began immediately from the prologue with its' glimpse into how the book came to be and straight away into the first chapter! He captured this countrys' misguided zeal for political war in a clear, concise, matter of fact way. As the reader I was able to experiencethe reality of political war and its' 'cause and effect'. I couldn't pick a side. I could only watch from the sidelines through my readers lens...indeed a very powerful book. Kudos to you, Sir once again! Your book was nothing short of amazing! Thank you!
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Sorry for the delay in reviewing.  A family health emergency has short-circuited my normal reading habits.  This is a very good story if you are into the narco, cartel, and life in underdeveloped countries.  It takes you through the life of a young man, his joining the auto-defense and his rise in the ranks, and his eventual leaving.  It gets a bit graphic at times, and very cold hearted for a lot of the book.  What is the most amazing thing to me is that most of the main characters are kids!  Kids who should be getting ready for their junior proms, rather than preparing and going to battle.  You forget about that as your reading and then something pops up to remind you and you think "These are just children".

Highly recommend.
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I must admit, when the publishers asked me to read & give an honest review on this book I had my reservations. Rusty Young's first book is my all time book to recommend so I was worried that my pre conception of 'it's not going to be any where near as good' would ruin the read.

HOW WRONG I WAS! Now don't get me wrong, nothing will beat Marching Powder but this book has me sucked in from the first chapter. 

Each characters stories were so well written, whether they were a main character or just a small part, you felt entrapped in their lives, their struggles, their grief.

Pedro & Paillio have the most amazing friendship built on such a solid foundation that you grow with every step of their journey. 

The horrors that are depicted throughout felt so real I was actually gasping at points and I'm not ashamed to admit I had years rolling down my cheeks quite a few times.I

I've never been one to pick up a book that tells a story of war or anything military but I am so pleased I have this a chance. 

Amazingly written, well thought out, gripping, heartfelt & emotionally captivating. 

Massive thumbs up to Rusty Young... You've done it again!
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I wont go into detail about the story as i dont want to spoil the book, i see so many reviews that give 80% of the story away and it spoils it for the reader in my opinion. I loved this book, I enjoyed the story and i felt connected with the characters. One of my favourite books this year in fact. The story was a real page Turner and infact my other half kept needing to tell me to put it down and go to sleep, I was gripped. Pleaseantly surprised and brilliantly written, a must read for sure.
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Wow! This is a huge book,  but don’t be put off. The sheer knowledge Young has and the time spent in the region shows. Well planned and well thought out, I imagine this is based on many of the people he met and their stories, we follow Pedro through his journey to become a child soldier, the senseless violence and trauma the citizens have to endure. A brutal novel, well worth reading.
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Rusty Young began his research for a non-fiction book about child soldiers but after interviewing a few he found that a better avenue would be to create a work of fiction weaving together the stories into a tale of one young boy Pedro. Pedro's life is changed when his father is murdered in front of him by Guerrilla's who refuse to let him move or bury the body.  In fact the whole town refuses to help Pedro so he swears revenge, joining an illegal paramilitary group to help him exact revenge of the men who were responsible. 

This is a long book but it is an interesting, and compelling read. Pedro is relateable and sympathetic as a character and if even a 10th of this book is real it is devastating. Colombian politics have always been unsettling but this really puts it in perspective.  Each side saying they are fighting for the people and that the other faction is "bad" and the death toll mounts and the violence continues. The people stuck between all of this just keep trying to live their lives but sometimes not taking a side isn't as easy as you would think. 

When I thought of child soldiers I always think of those in Africa, stolen and drugged, forced to fight for whatever side abducted them but this is not that story.  Here you are recruited, lured with promises of money and power.  But what may have started out as a way to exact revenge or become more powerful quickly turns into a reality of violence, blind obedience and/or death. 

Well researched, well written and easy to read Colombiano is worth the time needed due to its length.
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A powerful novel, set in Colombia, reliving the conflict of army vs guerilla vs drug lords, etc. You get the drift. It follows two and a half years of the life of child soldier Pedro, who is forced to watch the murder of his father at the hands of guerillas on his family farm, then, wracked with guilt, he enlists with terrorist organisation the Autodefencas to fight the guerillas when he is only fifteen.

We follow Pedro and his best friend Palillo as they go through their training, and start to rise up the ranks of the organisation. We go on missions, watch with them in terror as they and their friends go through a living hell, we laugh, cry and love with these soldiers, often forgetting that they are only kids, as they are forced to grow up far too fast in a harsh regime.

This is a hard book to put down, yet it is far from an easy read. Well researched and terrifyingly realistic, author Rusty Young has based his novel on the real stories of child soldiers he has met in Colombia. It's definitely not a book for a single sitting, the kindle edition clocking in at over 800 pages, but the time goes quickly as you find yourself totally absorbed in Pedro's story. It is a true eye-opener about current affairs we never truly appreciate are happening in our world. Highly recommended.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Havelock And Baker for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I am blown away by Colombiano. At close to 700 pages this is a tomb of a novel, however, it passed very quickly and I found myself wishing it was a lot longer. This is a powerful, heartfelt, terrifying story based in fact about Colombia's child soldiers. There is a lot of graphic violence but it never feels gratuitous; it explores the topics of murder, war, corruption, drug trafficking, exploitation, violence, racism, revenge and eventually the redemptive power of love. Part thriller, part coming-of-age tale, I was drawn in rapidly and gripped for the duration. You'll find this very difficult to put down. Rusty Young has always written highly original stories which draw on real-world experiences to create an affecting narrative, but this is his best so far, in my opinion.

It's certainly a book that I will remember for a long time to come as it had such a huge impact on me. The situation in Colombia is not widely known, so I hope this informs a few more people about it; it makes for quite depressing reading, however, it really is a story that needs to be told. Hats off to Mr Young for creating an eminently readable narrative on such a difficult subject. As for structure, the short, snappy chapters keep you progressing and the writing is indeed well done. You can tell that he is extremely knowledgeable on this topic and the background and description of the Colombian landscape. This comes from his years spent undercover as a member of the US government; the testimonies of the child soldiers in this book are therefore from first-hand experience. 

With it being a mix of fact and fiction a fine balance between the two is crucial to keep readers interested, but this is done so beautifully here that it's a non-issue.  This is a disturbing, intense, emotional history lesson all wrapped up in thriller form. This will without a doubt feature in my top books of 2019. I urge you to read it.

Many thanks to Havelock & Baker Publishing for an ARC.
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On the plus side, this feels authentic and knowledgeable: Young has the admirable knack of weaving the information gleaned from interviews with Colombia's 'child soldiers' into a cohesive story that is free of the dreaded info-dumps that mar many fact-to-fiction books. We effortlessly imbibe Colombian politics, the battles between left-wing guerrillas and government-allied paramilitaries, the latter essentially private armies, as well as the perpetual backdrop of the cocaine trade. 

On the less good side, the 'fiction' feels emotionally and literarily simplistic, almost like a YA book - which may be appropriate given that so many of the protagonists are teenagers, a few even pre-teens. The overarching plot of Pedro's quest to avenge his father's murder began to pall quite rapidly for me with lots of secret plotting and one-note emotions. 

Despite some naivety in the plotting (all those teens who have found tru-love already) there's enough in the background to keep me gripped. The chapters whip past and there are some excellent set pieces, especially in the training camp and some of the battles.   

So despite some unsophistication (e.g. the cliff-hanger chapter endings) in both emotional and literary terms this is a book where it's worth switching off those more critical faculties and just going with the story. The underlying tale is strong enough to grip, shock and startle - even more so considering that it's based on the real lives of young Colombians.
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Animosity
I expected a documentary style book outlining the research and feedback Rusty Young had gathered from all the interviews and investigations he had in the region and with the real-life Child Soldiers. Not the case!

Colombiano is a novel styled book which is based on a fictional character, Pedro (probably an amalgamation of several people in an attempt to protect identities), who experiences the events that drove him to enrol as a child soldier and fight in a conflict that was brutal, remorseless, perilous and full of hate. 

Law and order do not exist in the traditional sense in Colombia. During their troubled past, there have been a number of factions. Firstly the Colombian Army and police forces providing limited law and order in a divided country – not to mention their exposure to corruption and criminality. The second group was the FARC Guerrilla, who were peasant farmers who took up arms, aiming to fight poverty and social inequality by toppling the government and installing communist rule. To fund their revolution, they ‘taxed’ businesses and kidnapped the rich, appropriating their lands for redistribution to the poor. The third group were the Paramilitaries who were wealthy land and business owners, tired of the government’s failure to protect them, who formed their own private militias and ‘death squads’.
“No matter how hard you try, you can’t remain neutral. Eventually, you have to pick a side. And if you don’t, one will be picked for you. As it was for me.”

When Pedro was 15 years old he had to witness his father being executed by the Guerrilla for allowing the army to drink their water on the farm. There may have been other reasons and often it was to send a message. The execution is cold and clinical but disturbingly they are not allowed to bury the body in the consecrated ground and have a priest pray for his soul. While Pedro’s parents had always pleaded with him to remain neutral, now his father’s death must be avenged.

Rusty Young creates excellent characters, particular, Pedro, and a society that is circumspect and threated by cruelty from forces on all sides. He portrays an environment where the futility of staying removed from the violence is common, where events can strike and change a life in a matter of moments, and where hate and revenge are the staple diet of young men and women. Who can say what we would do if we watched a family member murdered and the law enforcement unwilling or unable to address the crime? Unfortunately, bloodshed begets bloodshed and when all sides can cite atrocities the spiral into horror and hostility is the norm.

The length of the book is nearly 700 pages and I started it with the decision in my mind that if this dragged I would stop and not commit any more time to a book I wasn’t loving. I read the 689 pages and also read other material around the subject. One major blessing in reading a book this length is that the chapters are short and there is that feeling that you are progressing and probably reading more in a session that you may otherwise have planned. I felt the writing was excellent and the pace of the book was brilliantly maintained while becoming totally enthralled with the story. 

I would highly recommend this book and I would like to thank Havelock & Baker Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC version in return for an honest review.
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Having read Rusty Young’s first book ‘Marching Powder’ many years ago, and found that a fascinating read, I was very keen to read his second book.  This book did certainly not disappoint me, and if anything I found it even more fascinating that his first.  It is set in Columbia and tells the story of child soldiers fighting against Guerrilla warfare.  It follows the tale of a young boy Pedro who witnesses his father murdered in front of him as a young boy.  In retaliation to this he joins the illegal paramilitary group the ‘Autodefensas’, avenging to kill the people responsible for his father’s death.  It tells his story of his brutal training, how they fight the Guerrillas in a world of corruption and cocaine trafficking and how this affects his relationships with his mother, girlfriend and best friend, as well as addresses how warfare and corruption can tear relationships and families apart.  As we follow his story we also share how he develops from a boy into a young man and gets to know himself as a person, as he is faced with many difficult moral dilemmas.  It is a well written book, part fact part fiction, which keeps you gripped throughout.  Whilst having an idea of the kind of corruption that occurs in Columbia, it was a real insight into what we don’t hear and know about.  Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book wanting to know what happens to our main character, especially when he finds himself in some dangerous positions, it was also an emotional read at times, with the bloodshed, loss of life and brutality that comes with war.  My thanks go out to netgalley and Havelock & Baker Publishing for the opportunity to read an ARC of this.  This book is in my opinion well deserved of five stars, which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in this subject matter.
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The author, Rusty Young, has first-hand knowledge of the dreadful Colombian war between the pro-government Autodefensas and the communist backed FARC. Shockingly, each side was directly, or indirectly, sponsored by the distribution and sale of drugs 

I was previously unaware of the roles played by child soldiers on both sides of the conflict and was quite shaken by how many were recruited from the age of 12 years old upwards. 

The main character, Pedro joined the ranks of Autodefensa after being forced to watch his father being executed by FARC soldiers. It seems that most of the soldiers on both sides had personally experienced violence perpetrated on their families, which was a major recruiting factor..

The totally dehumanising training regime of the Autodefensas was quite extreme and ruthless. Any sign of weakness ending in harsh punishment or death.    

The main characters are well portrayed by the author and are totally believable. Young seems to fully understand the conflicting emotions of the young soldiers faced in war situations as well as their private lives. The adult officers were also quite complex individuals, most of whom had experienced violent personal traumas in their past. 

In summary, a long but very readable book, well researched, brutally but not gratuitously violent, and extremely gripping. I would love to read other books by this author.
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