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.