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Book Review: Colombiano by Rusty Young (4/5)

27 Jan

It’s been a while since I took on review copies and here I am with two within two months! After I read Eastbound from Flagstaff, I was going to take a break from review copies but when I was told I could have the audiobook for Colombiano, I was sold. Audiobooks are my weakness and I decided to take on the daunting length of this story if I could listen to the whole thing.

Cover image via Goodreads

Colombiano by Rusty Young

Summary from Goodreads:

All Pedro Gutiérrez cares about is fishing, playing pool and his girlfriend Camila’s promise to sleep with him on his sixteenth birthday. But his life is ripped apart when Guerrilla soldiers callously execute his father in front of him, and he and his mother are banished from their farm.

Swearing vengeance against the five men responsible, Pedro, with his best friend Palillo, joins an illegal Paramilitary group, where he is trained to fight, kill and crush any sign of weakness.

But as he descends into a world of unspeakable violence, Pedro must decide how far he is willing to go. Can he stop himself before he becomes just as ruthless as those he is hunting? Or will his dark obsession cost him all he loves?

I wasn’t ready for the deep emotional cuts this book would give me. I hear about the war on drugs and what cocaine does to a country and the people in the trade but it was all brought home in this book. I guess I’d thought that a big industry like cocaine in Colombia would somehow be centered around the big cities but I was shocked at how it affected farmers and people in rural areas. The way Pedro’s story unfolded told the story of the drug trade and how it has corrupted a country and made daily life dangerous in ways I couldn’t imagine. I could tell Young was trying to tell me about the effects of child soldiers and political instability but giving Pedro a starring role in the story and making his family come alive made the story vivid and wonderful.

Unfortunately, the characters were very believable. I say that because it’s horrible to think that a 15-year-old boy could be telling me about his life as a soldier and how he killed men, but I bought every word of it. The life he describes at the beginning is so ‘normal’ and typical of a teenager, but when his father is killed, everything changes. All the people around Pedro were believable, too. I could see how they’d react to him and the situations he was in. I could feel their fear. The length of the book gave Young time to flush out most of the side characters so that I felt like I knew them well by the end.

Pedro himself was my favorite character. I’d get attached to side characters from time to time, but I felt they always let me know in some way. Pedro was consistent and steady. I didn’t always agree with his decisions or means, but I liked him and I wanted good things to happen to him. He was a good character to follow through the craziness that happened during the story. I think we saw a lot of different aspects of how problems in Colombia formed and continue. It didn’t seem contrived to have all of it come from Pedro. He was observant and wasn’t afraid to get involved in things.

Parts of Pedro’s story were relatable and I think that’s what made it so impactful. I can imagine wanting revenge on someone who hurt my family. I can’t imagine killing the way Pedro does. I remember falling in love young (I met my husband at 14) so his story with Camilla was relatable, but I can’t imagine keeping secrets from my spouse like the ones Pedro has to keep. It was small things like this that connected me to Pedro and made his story even more heartbreaking for me.

Rusty Young
Image via HuffPost Australia

Maybe it’s a recency bias, but I enjoyed the ending of the book when Pedro was living back in Llorona best. He was more in control at that point and his decisions had huge consequences. I felt like he was operating with training wheels on for a lot of the book and I was interested to see what he’d do when he had more control. He didn’t have to sneak bullets out anymore, he was the person rationing them.

The graphic descriptions really got to me. I don’t do well with graphic violence and gore. So certain scenes (that I won’t describe because thinking of them is making me queasy) were a bit much for me to stomach. I had one of those scenes come up while I was running and that was a horrible combination. It was effective, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t like it. The details showed how violent Pedro’s life was. It also reinforced that I probably shouldn’t join a paramilitary.

My audiobook was narrated by Brian Ramos and I thought he was amazing. He added great voices for the characters, Pallilo in particular. I’m glad they chose a narrator who could speak Spanish as well. I’m not a native speaker, but I’m fluent enough that I can tell when a narrator doesn’t really understand the Spanish they’re speaking and it was clear Ramos knew what he was doing. He was able to keep me entertained for the entire novel which is no small feat with this daunting length.

My major takeaways from this book were about Colombia and the major issues the country is facing. I didn’t get a lot about the characters because I think the country is the major character for the story. Yes, Colombia has a lot of problems. And they’re all connected. There is no quick way to fix any of them without fixing all of them at once. The story taught me a lot about how things can go so wrong so quickly. Many of the people affected by the violence weren’t involved with the causes of violence at all before they became the focus of it. This forced me to see that there’s a lot of work to do everywhere and none of it has an easy solution.

Writer’s Takeaway: Rusty seemed to have something to say about Colombia that could easily have been a non-fiction book. But by giving us Pedro and a fictional character to root for, he made these issues more personable and helped me connect to the material on a much deeper level than I would have otherwise. While the truth may be stranger than fiction, fiction can be more engaging.

I enjoyed the book and story though it seemed a little long-winded. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Colombiano – Rusty Young | crazybookladyreviews