Cover Image: Colombiano


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I'm conflicted about  Colombiano by Australian author Rusty Young.       Whilst I liked some of the characters there were many more that I disliked.     Often I couldn't turn the pages fast enough yet equally often I had to cast the book aside and turn to lighter, more gentle reads filled with human kindness.   Much of this comes down to the fact it is a work of fiction but shockingly it was woven from true stories.    The amount and type of violence it contained was astounding.   This novel shone a harsh light on the the drug trade, the greed, the violence and warfare that has defined Colombia for many decades yet almost every character was a devoted and practicing Christian.    I'm still not sure I can reconcile myself to these contrasts.

The central character Pedro was only 15 when his father was murdered by Guerrilla's in front of him.     Though Pedro was from a loving, hardworking and religious family who abhorred violence, he pledged to extract revenge on his fathers killers.    For the next two and a half years he and best friend Pallillo trained with the AUC Autodefensas an illegal paramilitary outfit and Pedro dedicted his life to achieving that goal.    In doing so, he came perilously close to becoming a replica of those he so despised, allowing his relationships and morals to take second place to his burning desire to kill without mercy.    I may have questioned the protagonists behaviour at times but I liked him and looked forward to a time when he would be free of the violent life he had embarked upon. 

The author lived and worked in Colombia for eight years and described it as a beautiful country yet his love of the place wasn't evident to me.    I was repulsed by the atrocious behaviours purportedly demonstrated within all levels of society and felt incredible gratitude at not living in a country such as this.    In his Prologue (which by the way I loved) author Rusty Young  questioned his right as an outsider to pass comment on a country that had " already been deeply maligned and stereotyped  but he went on to say he felt compelled to tell the complicated and painful stories of the child soldiers he interviewed.  I can't help wondering if the following words attributed to Pedro were actually spoken by the real life Pedro whose story the character was based upon:
  I know I’ve done terrible things – killed people and even worse. I know I’ve lied to those I love. But people need to know that this is not a lie. The things I’ve witnessed with these eyes – these stories I’m telling you – they’re too horrible for anyone to invent. This is the truth about Colombia and I want people to know it. .

So, with those thoughts settling in my mind and through reflecting on the book I find myself less conflicted.     Did I enjoy Colombiano?   No, not in the sense of entertainment.    Did I learn about Colombia?  Yes, so very much.      Did it achieve what the author  intended to?   Yes most definitely.  Will it be memorable?    Without a doubt.    Was it well written?   Indeed it was.     Even though this may not sound like your kind of book - just as it was not mine - but on balance I would encourage you to stepmout of your comfort zone and give it a try.    Recommended for readers who enjoyed The Godfather.

Thanks to the author, Havelock & Baker, and NetGalley for the opportunity of reading this digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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When NetGalley offered me Colombiano a few months ago, I was flattered. It was the first time I received such an offer. But when I saw what it was about, I doubted I would like it. How wrong I was! 
Rusty Young wrote a wonderful and poignant but yet warm story full of hope. A story where there are no heroes and villains, only ordinary people fighting for the bare lives the best they can. After the last page, I didn't know who to condemn and whom to defend. True life stories are allways the strongest, and Colombiano is the best proof of that. Thank you, Rusty Young for giving me the opportunity to learn about the life and difficulties that Colombia and its people are going through. Especially children who are forced to grow up prematurely, children whose dreams and hopes are stolen. And thank you, NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
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Pedro’s life on his family farm turns into a nightmare when guerrillas execute his father and banish his mother from their home. Vowing revenge, he joins the Autodefensas, a paramilitary group fighting the guerrillas, discreetly alongside the state military, and inculcates himself into hierarchical politics toward his hidden agenda of vengeance. Young represents a no-win situation for a teenage boy in a village that’s essentially a war-zone based on greed disguised as ideology. The author writes from a well-researched position of direct observation and interviews with real-life child soldiers, though the perspective must remain that of a white westerner. Young co-founded a foundation to rehabilitate and resocialize former child soldiers, using his residence in Bogota as headquarters and tithing royalties from this novel to the foundation. Read about his history and connections here: As a novel, this is a compelling story of terror, self-redemption, romance, and familial obligations, evoking awareness of these child soldiers. I received a digital copy of this well-written story from the publisher Bantam through NetGalley.
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It seems we take our freedom, and our good fortune for the basic things in life that protect us and make us feel safe.
The story of young children being trained to fight and kill brings a feeling of horror. But the truth is explained in this eye opening and honest account of these young people
A very moving and interesting look in to the lives of the people that live with fear that lack the basics of humanity, bring home the struggle to survive
This amazing glimpse inside the lives of individuals with
terror, murder, torture and the loss of all sense of protection from the authorities makes for a chilling read.
I have cried, laughed and smiled as this book as shown me that we as human beings survive against the odds
A recommended read that takes you on a journey of terrifying reality.
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How far are you willing to go to do what you think is right?  In Colombiano, we get to follow the quest of Pedro, a 15-year-old who saw his father executed in front of him by communist guerrillas, seeking justice for the terrible act.  This leads him to join an illegal paramilitary group along with his best friend Pallio and leave behind his mother, and girlfriend Camila who he is in love with.   Based on interview’s conducted by author Rusty Young this book pulls you in until you cannot put it down, showing the emotion and drama of not only these young people’s lives but also the conflict that shaped Colombia for the last 50 years and continues to do so today.

Throughout the book, Pedro has one goal for joining with the paramilitaries, avenging his father’s death, yet he is still a teenager trying to find his way through the world.  As he journey’s through training, battles and rises through the ranks he must also learn to balance and find peace with the values his father taught him.   The story illustrates that the world is not black or white, but many shades of grey.  The friends Pedro makes along the way demonstrate the various ways that children could get involved in the conflict on both sides paramilitary and guerilla, whether it be for ideals or just because it seemed like a more secure option than home life, or poverty. They become a family, and support system for each other as they learn that sometimes institutions and society fail to protect the vulnerable populations. 

I would recommend this book to someone with an interest in Colombia, the conflict or bilingual style books.  Originally, I was skeptical about a book on this topic written by an author from the United States but Rusty Young does a great job of capturing the events and the cultural references rang true to someone who has lived in Colombia. Although written in English there are some slang terms which continue in Spanish and help to give a feel towards the culture of Colombia.  If you are looking for a short read, or a light read this is not the book for you as it is almost 700 pages in addition it describes violence, massacres and murders. The chapters are written in a short style and the book is divided into clear parts which allows time for the reader to put it down and think about what is going on.  However, the author’s style captivated me, and I could not put the book down in the second half due to wanting to know how Pedro was going to complete his quest.  

Thank you to publisher Havelock & Baker Publishing who provided me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
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I have been wrestling with my feelings about this book since the very first chapter, probably even going back to the email I received from the publisher, Havelock and Baker, offering me a chance to read Colombiano in exchange for an honest review. Before I said yes to their offer, I read the jacket and breezed through a small number of reviews, just to get a sense of what it was I would agree to read. 

  On the surface, the task seemed simple; I would be consenting to read a war novel of sorts. But unlike the typical military story I'm familiar with, this book presents a twist; the main character, Pedro Gutierrez, is sixteen years old, which places him outside the typical war novel hero prototype. And there was the hook. The question "how can a sixteen-year-old boy possibly carry this war-theme forward" was tantalizing enough that I figured I would have something to focus on if the war theme did indeed become tedious.

  And with that bit of calculus done, Pedro and I were off on what I hoped would be a grand adventure. 

  I settled into the story quickly, learning about the life of a rural Colombian farming community through Pedro's interaction with his neighbors and friends. They live in Llorona, which on the surface, appears to be a quiet, religious farming community. Their life is calm and straightforward, and their ambitions are no different. Pedro will one day take over the farm with his girlfriend Camila, whom he loves deeply, already, at sixteen years of age. Incongruous, but I decided I could look the other way; it helps to suspend disbelief to allow the story to build. (Pedro's relationship with Camila becomes foundational to the story, so I'm glad I bought it from the beginning.)

  Through a series of events, we learn much about the tension in the seemingly quiet Llorona brought about by the local cocaine trade and the Communist Guerillas. Rural life doesn't provide much in the way of career choices; it appears you have few options. You can be a farmer, a farmhand, or you participate in any number of various steps of coca leave production. And if coca leaves are your job, then your life is controlled by the guerillas, as we come to learn they control 

  The Colombian government has a muted presence in the village as well in the form of resident General Buitrago. The General should help balance the power of the guerillas, but that it turns out that isn't the case. They've become nearly toothless due to the rising power of those pesky guerillas. 

  The story gets rolling with the introduction of the third leg of the military tripod, the AUC, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, formed to defend the Colombian people from the guerillas. Pedro is spotted talking to a known AUC recruiter in the local market, unacceptable in the eyes of the guerilla. The guerillas confront Pedro and his father and accuse them of providing the military with water from their farm, which is a major no-no. Pedro is held down by a guerilla commando and forced to watch them execute his father right in their front yard. Pedro and his mother are then banished from their farm and told not to bury Pedro's father, or there will be repercussions. Now it's on. The story officially begins here. Pedro's Revenge, we could call it. I will leave out much of the critical matter since it will likely spoil the story for anyone interested in reading it. 

  I will be honest. I had trouble straddling the line between fiction and non-fiction. It's precarious, to say the least. Pedro is a typical sixteen-year-old schoolboy, with the concerns that accompany that part of life. The transformation he undergoes is remarkable, unbelievable even. If that portion of the tale is the actual truth, this story becomes nothing short of astonishing. For me, though, the suspension of disbelief became like a Husafell Stone, nearly impossible for me to carry. But that is my problem.

  The only other problem between me and the page had to do with pacing. Many of the chapters were only one or two pages. While this isn't a problem in and of itself, it meant that too much was left unsaid. It seemed like there were ample opportunities to add substance to many of the chapters, or some more thought to the dialogue. Maybe this was done intentionally since the POV is from that of a teenager. Plausible or not, I found it disruptive. I prefer to settle into the story, the mechanics of that stand with the narrative flow. That flow found me more often toward the end of the book, once the resolution was well on its way, but still too late to make the entire experience more pleasurable.
  The completion of this story left me with an overall sense of relief. Much of this feeling was related to the subject matter in the book. The content is disturbing, and knowing that a good portion of this book is factual made my stomach churn. Understanding the Columbian people were forced to live this way is difficult to fathom and terrible to see up close and in such fine detail. It made for a genuinely uncomfortable reading experience. I want to thank the publisher once again for allowing me this experience. Regardless of my feelings about the book, I appreciate the opportunity and enjoyed the process very much.
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I would like to thank NetGalley, and the author - Rusty Young, for the opportunity to read this as a complementary ebook for a fair and honest review.

At this point, I am only a little over half way through the book. This genre is not the type of story I would normally select, but I set a goal to stretch my reading selections in 2020!

Colombiano is a story of the terrible violence endured by the citizens of Colombia.  It starts out with 15 year old Pedro who is a (somewhat) typical teenager - in high school and looking forward to having sex with his girlfriend Camilla on his 16th birthday.  He gets caught up in violence when he and his mother witness the execution of his father for allowing an opposing faction to drink water from their farm.  wanting revenge on his father's killers forces Pedro to abandon his "normal" life and join the paramilitary group with a goal of finding and killing the men who killed his father.  As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that both sides are violent terroists.  Even the "good guys" are bad guys!!

At the halfway point of the book, Pedro is barely 16.  It is an interesting read but there is so much detail that the story drags on. I'm going to stay with it and will finish my review when I've read the whole book. More to come!
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Colombiano is a big book, a very big book both in length and scope, but don’t let the page count or the topic put you off. It’s a well written, wholly absorbing account of a boy soldier’s experience of the guerilla/paramilitary warfare that nearly ripped apart and destroyed Colombia.

Pedro Gutiérrez was only fifteen when he watched guerrilla soldiers march into his family’s farm and kill his father, a good and honest man. Vowing revenge and too young to join the army, Pedro and his friend Palillo joined the paramilitary Autodefencas. Surviving brutal basic training alongside other teenagers and children, Pedro eventually wins the trust of those in command and sets about hunting down the men who killed his father and continue to terrorize his village.

With insight gained from years of working undercover in Colombia and more recently of interviewing ex-child soldiers, Rusty Young has written a powerful account of the Colombian conflict driven originally by politics and fuelled by money and cocaine. It’s a hard book to read as the ongoing brutality of what people will do to each other is very intense and I found I had to put the book down quite often for a breather. However, the violence is based on real accounts and is essential in the telling of the horrors these young soldiers had to endure in this very real conflict. Although the characters become hardened to the violence, they never lose their basic humanity in caring for each other and their families, as Pedro shows once his thirst for revenge has been assuaged.

This is not a book I would have thought to choose for myself, so I am very grateful that Havelock & Baker Publishing offered me a copy to read. It's a book I will keep thinking about for some time.
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This is a very powerful and confronting story set in Colombia, following two and half year of the life of Pedro, a child soldier, who enlists with a terrorist organisation when he is only fifteen years old, as a response to having witnessed the execution of his father and is involved in horrific violence, to the point where he in fact becomes what he set out to destroy - like the men he despised. 

However this was quite a difficult book to read not only because of the disturbing subject and details that are included but because it was a very, very long read - over 800 pages in the ebook version. Although it was broken up into smaller segments and well written, I felt that some editing would have made it more digestible for the reader without losing the impact of the story.  I found myself having to leave it and return after reading some other more engaging novels. 

I admire the author Rusty Young for his endeavour, his research and commitment to writing and telling this story as well as the fact that ten percent of his royalties go to the Colombian Children’s Foundation of Australia, which helps to rehabilitate and resocialise former child soldiers. 

This is not a book for the faint hearted!

 Thank you to Netgalley and Havelock & Baker Publishing for a copy to read and review.
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This is a very hard-hitting story of Pedro. A teenager from Colombia who witnesses his father being executed. At the tender age of fifteen he has to grow up very quickly. This is a powerful story. Rusty Young the author worked for the US government and was shocked by the stories that he encountered of child soldiers. He vowed to get their voices heard by writing a story about their ordeal

This is what makes this epic story more harrowing to read. Knowing that in fact this isn't fiction, but it has actually happened to young people out there. 

Reading of Pedro's revenge and his journey from a school boy to a killer, who goes through gruelling and rough training is very tough reading. It's hard to comprehend at times that these are young boys.

Despite this not being my usual read, and the fact that it was a very long story. The content and research put into this made it a worthwhile read.
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Thank you NetGalley & Havelock & Baker Publishing for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This is a powerfully, strong story, sure to captivate its readers.   
Betrayal, revenge, and corruption follow our main character Pedro throughout this novel, and his life.  From a war torn land, he watches his own father be murdered, Pedro vows to seek vengeance all any and all who had a hand in his fathers death.  
Which led him to join the "Autodefensas" at the age of 15, in order to exact his revenge. 
While the revenge portion of this novel was a bit drawn on for me, it was still a entertaining and powerful story.
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Such a really good book. 
A young boy with a loving family has his life turned upside down and he has to grow up very quickly as he finds himself in some very adult situations.
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Book Review: Colombiano by Rusty Young
(Published by Havelock & Baker Publishing)

4.0 Stars

Child Soldiers and Armed Conflict.
In August 2018, the Secretary General of the United Nations issued Decree #1434, adopting public policy guidance on the prevention of recruitment and use of children and of sexual violence against children.

Child soldiers in Colombia. This magnificent effort is the author's tribute to people he'd encountered and tales he'd heard, while secretly working four years for the US government.

It covers five years in the life of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez González who lives on the edge from age 15 to 19. The death of his father in the hands of communist guerillas, the FARC, triggers his assimilation into the folds of the civilian contra-guerillas, the AUC militia, where he rises quickly in the ranks from trainee to foot soldier to platoon commander cum sniper, and to commander in charge of a garrison in his hometown.

With the AUC, traumatic experiences for the young warrior abound: summary executions, torture, massacres, and coercive sex on female recruits. All the while Pedro struggles with his demons and seeks to avenge his father's death which he believes he'd been responsible for.

Written from the perspective of an Australian, the 800-page epic narrative of fact and fiction is commendably creative, although some readers may perceive embellishments and exaggeration, and that natural inclination of a Westerner to gringo-size the delivery in speech and culture, which may evoke skepticism.

Example, macho Latino grownup men simply do not take orders from kids, especially if they themselves are armed and tienen dinero. Perhaps, as foot soldiers, si.

The story's timeline is pegged after the death in 1993 of Pablo Escobar, the so-called King of Cocaine. The paramilitary organization which recruited Pedro, the AUC or The United Self-Defenders of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC, in Spanish) was a paramilitary and drug trafficking group, considered a terrorist organization by the United State, and existed from 1997 to 2006.
The author met Pedro when he was twenty-one so based on the timeline, this story or the details on which the book is based must have happened at least ten years ago, circa 2006-2008.

How does it stack up against major South American works?

It won't have the storytelling prowess of "The House of the Spirits" by Isabel Allende, encapsulated in one haunting sentence - "Barrabás came to us by sea".

Nor will it have the magical realism and the travails of one Buendia family in "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez.

And the book won't incorporate that descriptive and naturalist style of great writers, transporting the reader into the verdant and lush rainforests of the Colombian jungle.

But what the book does well, instead, is that it gets the reader into the mix of the action, - the ofttimes unsavory nitty-gritty - the bloodthirst, wanton acts of violence and corruption in guerilla warfare; the innocence, anguish, ambition, friendships, filial loyalty, love, and coming-of-age of the child soldier, under the most horrific circumstance.

Review based on an Advance Reading Copy from Havelock & Baker Publishing through NetGalley (for the version coming out on Feb 1, 2020).
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Genre: YA/Coming-of-Age
Publisher:  Havelock & Baker
Pub. Date:  Feb. 1, 2020

Although, I love all the YA classics, such as, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” or “Member of the Wedding,” I am not a fan of contemporary YA.  Even to me, I find this interesting as to why not.  I am not a book snob when it comes to YA.  At the age of thirteen, I read the novel “The Outsiders,” which began my love of reading and the reason why at a tender age I wrote a manuscript. (It has never seen the light of day). A teenager wrote “Outsiders,” which is a story about teenagers for teenagers. Still, I know of adults who read the book, and became invested in the story’s portrayal of class biases and a strong dose of Jets vs. Sharks.  However, I find most of contemporary YA, is written for teens to enjoy, but not meant for adult enjoyment. For example, since I am a fan of Goth literature I gave the cultural phenomenon “Twilight” a try. I never made it to the second in the series. I found the book’s audience was meant for readers who are not quite ready yet to read Bram Stoker’s literary masterpiece,  I am open for all who wish to challenge my argument and open my eyes to whatever it is that I may be missing.

Back to this novel, since I do not enjoy contemporary YA, why in the world did I decide to read one that is over 700 pages long.  The answer is because the author chose to spend four months in a Colombian prison for research purposes for his 2004 non-fiction book, “Marching Powder.” For this gritty and heartbreaking novel, he interviewed Colombian child soldiers.  Not your usual YA kind of author. Probably because of Young’s experiences, the novel feels completely authentic. The books characters are fictional, but based on the real-life children he interviewed regarding the never-ending Colombian civil war. As stated in the book blurb, “You have to pick a side [the ruthless guerrilla movement, “The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army (FARC)” or the equally ruthless vigilante group, “United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (The Autodefensa)] or one will be picked for you.” 

As Young states in the Sept. 9, 2017 New Zealand Herald, "I took the most dramatic, powerful, of each of these stories and attributed all those stories to one person."  His protagonist is Pedro, a typical, Colombian, rural 15-year old boy.  He loves his family, his girlfriend and fishing.  When FARC guerrillas execute his peace-loving father, his life will never be the same. FARC will not allow him to bury his father so there will be no proper Christian service.  In addition, they banished him and his mother from their family farm leaving them no way to make a living.  The execution scene is especially powerful, because, the author manages to show the father’s goodness and courage with limited dialogue. When they tell him to knell, he tells his murders that he will stand. He demands that they do not shoot him in front of his family. For the first time in his life, he curses at his son insisting that he take his mother inside and that they both stay there. The son does not listen.  Pedro father dies holding onto his pocket bible in front of his son.

When the police can do nothing to help Pedro seek justice for his father, he joins the vigilante group. Here Young holds no punches in his words. The brutality that the boys go through in the Autodefensa training was too much for me and I often needed to skim.  Not so much due to goriness, but to the shocking and horrific acts that the boys were forced to commit to one another.  Young captures the Nazi-like disregard for life, even if you are friends and on the same side.  

As the pages go by, Pedro becomes accustomed to torture and death and moves up the chain of command. Even as he becomes part of a world of unspeakable violence, the author manages to keep Pedro an adolescent with teenage concerns.  Will his mother ever forgive him for joining Autodefensa? Can he win his girlfriend back? Will his best friend, from before and during his time in the group, remain his friend? He is determined to leave the group once he as killed those involved in his father’s murder, but wonders will there be anything of the old Pedro left inside of him. What sort of man will he become?  Would his father be proud or disgusted with him?

The author took seven years to write this novel complete with a glossary of Spanish terms and slang. I believe Young’s debut novel, “Colombiano” has the makings of a classic. It has enough action, romance, historical fiction, and coming-of-age to be pleasing to fans of these genres.  Still, I found the book to be too long.  I am a usually a fan of novels over 500 pages.   However, each battle in the civil war is explained detail-by-detail creating repetition.  Sometimes, it read more like history than historical fiction, which may be saying something more about this reviewer than the book.  Still, I find the novel to be a compelling and eye-opening read on Colombia’s history from the 1960’s to the present. An intellectual page-turner.
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I don’t think I can write a review for this book that would do it justice. Columbiano was raw, powerful, and eye opening. It’s a combination of a fiction and non fiction book, because the author interviewed child soldiers from a halfway house in Columbia. He took those experiences and weaved some fiction and his own research through it to create this important book. His writing was descriptive and meaningful, full of deeply disturbing material. It is definitely hard to read but you want to flip the pages as quick as possible to find out more. You NEED to read this book. It will open your eyes to everything going on there. It’s a story I never will forget. 

* ARC provided by NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
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*Thank you to the author for the free ARC, (via NetGalley), for an honest and fair review.

Rusty Young has performed an amazing feat, by pooling lots of real life stories and experiences into a narrative for easy reading. With engaging characters and a storyline which grips you throughout. 

Pedro is a young boy in Colombia, when his life is turned upside down by a traumatic event. Following his life, the reader is reminded of the harsh reality for many in Colombia. During the civil war, which created a tragic socio-economic way of life, the reader is taken on a tumultuous journey with Pedro as he discovers himself and what is important in life.
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Colombiano by Rusty Young is a story you will not soon forget. This is a work of fiction though the horrors of the Colombian civil war and its aftermath are part of history. The author worked in Colombia with the Anti-Kidnapping Program in a country that averaged eight kidnappings per day. While in-country, he interviewed the child soldiers on both sides of the war and these are the basis of this novel. Pedro, a fifteen-year-old boy, witnessed the execution of his father, by guerillas. He was executed for allegedly providing drinking water to their enemies. They then banned Pedro and his mother from their farm. The boy vowed to avenge his father’s death and joined and was trained by the paramilitaries. Brutality became part of his daily existence. This is a story of revenge and a story of children fighting a war. I admit that I skipped some passages due to the graphic violence but this is a book that needed to be written and needs to be read. Thank you to Havelock & Baker Publishing and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Colombiano by Rusty Young is a story that is difficult to read, but one that needs to be told.  Backing up the fiction with hard facts, the author gets to the very heart of the shocking truths of child soldiers in a post Escobar Colombia.  It is a world of unfathomable violence, and Mr Young's personal experience of this tumultuous time lends gravitas to the world that is inhabited by young Pedro.  This is a book that will stay with you long after you have turned the final page.

I was heartened to learn that 10% of the royalties generated from this novel will go toward the rehabilitation of former child soldiers.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Havelock and Baker Publishing for the opportunity to read this important novel.
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My thanks to Havelock and Baker Publishing for the invitation to read and review via NetGalley a digital copy of ‘Colombiano’ by Rusty Young in exchange for an honest review. It was published in ebook and audiobook editions in March 2019 with the paperback edition to be published on 1 February 2020.

Rusty Young worked secretly for the US government in Colombia for four years. He was shocked by the stories of child soldiers that he encountered and vowed that one day he would find a way to allow their voices and their stories to be heard. ‘Colombiano’ is the result blending fact and fiction.

He focused primarily on the life of one teenager, Pedro Gutierrez, who joins a paramilitary group in order to exact revenge on the Guerrillas who had brutally murdered his father. 

It’s a classic premise to chart a journey of revenge and the toll that such extracts upon the heart and soul. However, this was so violent and I found that I was zoning out and so set it aside at 40%. 

While I appreciated the author’s intention to relate the stories of the Colombian child soldiers and his work to assist in their rehabilitation, I just found this novel far too long at over 800 pages. The level of detail continually broke the tension for me.

Clearly I am in the minority given the rave reviews but sometimes novels are just not good fits for individual readers.
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This is a well-researched novel. It tells the story of 15-year-old Pedro, who is a normal boy growing up on his family’s farm in a small town in Colombia when his father is murdered in front of him by the country’s anti-government Guerrillas. Pedro vows to avenge his father’s death and signs on with the violent paramilitary organization Autodefensas Unidas. Along with other boys and girls his young age, Pedro undergoes merciless training to become a fighting machine. 

While well-researched, I found the style of writing in this novel not to my liking. It resembles YA or popular fiction rather than literary fiction. The story is told in a pattern of “then this happened…then this happened…then this happened”. It gets the job done, but the characters and place end up feeling flatter than I wished. That said, I know a lot of people, including my husband, who would really enjoy this. It’s action-packed from start to finish and contains lots of well-defined (in terms of good and bad) characters. It’s an excellent alternative to a cookie-cutter spy novel or thriller. It’s told in the form of short chapters, which keeps the 650+ pages moving.
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