When the Guerrilla execute Pedro’s father in front of him, and state that nobody be allowed to move the body, such is the power and fear they hold over the people of Llorona, that not even the army or police are willing to help Pedro with his father’s body. Pedro waits until nightfall, hoping someone will have the courage to help him. The only person to come is his best friend Palillo. Pedro realises that by moving his father’s body to give him a decent burial he will be breaking the Guerrilla’s prohibition, and that they will then come after him. The rage that had burned inside him throughout the day has had time to cool, and now fear starts to set in as he realises the ramifications of what he is about to do. The Guerrilla had killed Palillo’s father as well and since that time Pallilo has yearned to join the paramilitaries and find vengeance. The paramilitaries are an independent force that act independently from the army, not restricted by the government, and have a history of extreme violence. Many young men would join them not being able to wait to turn eighteen and join the army. Pedro knows that once they bury his father, he must leave his beloved Llorona. His life is about to take on a completely different path as he decides to join the paramilitaries with his best friend. His dream of running the family farm and living a content peaceful life has been shattered. As he plunges the cross into the earth to mark his father’s grave he thinks of vengeance as well.
“However it was not a cross I was thrusting into the earth, but a stake I was plunging into the hearts of my blood enemies.”
Pedro is wracked with guilt. He knows that if he had not been seen with the paramilitaries while trying to stop Palillo from joining them, that his father would still be alive. This guilt only fuels his burning desire for revenge and justice over the Guerrilla, and he decides in an act of vengeance to kill the leaders who were there the day of his father’s murder.
However, as the narrative unfolds, Pedro comes to realise that everything isn’t black and white, there are consequences for his actions. He starts to question himself and his morality as more innocents are dragged into his thirst for revenge, his quest for vengeance. After capturing the man who held him down and made him watch his father’s execution, he finds out that there is very little difference between this man and himself. His father was killed by the Guerrilla as well when he was only thirteen, and he had little choice but to join them if he wanted to survive. This rapacious desire for revenge is slowly consuming him and he realises he is becoming the very monster he is hunting.
In the acknowledgements, Young says he owes a debt of gratitude to the dozens of child soldiers and the members of the FARC, AUC, and ELN who opened up and trusted him, at great risk to themselves. It is obvious upon reading this book that Young must have worked diligently with his research and interviews with these child soldiers and it comes across in the narrative. It adds a strong feeling of authenticity to an already enjoyable story. 4 Stars!
Thank you to Rusty Young and Lily from Havelock & Baker Publishing who provided me with a copy of this book to review.
Rusty Young (born 1975) is the Australian-born author of the international bestseller Marching Powder, the true story of an English drug smuggler in Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro Prison and the bestselling novel, Colombiano, a fact-meets-fiction revenge thriller about a Colombian boy who sets out to avenge his father’s death. Rusty grew up in Sydney, and studied Finance and Law at the University of New South Wales. He was backpacking in South America when he heard about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia's famous San Pedro Prison. Curious about the reason behind McFadden's huge popularity, the law graduate went to La Paz and joined one of Thomas's illegal tours. They formed an instant friendship and then became partners in an attempt to record Thomas's experiences in the jail. Rusty bribed the guards to allow him to stay and for the next three months he lived inside the prison, sharing a cell with Thomas. After securing Thomas's release, Rusty lived in Colombia where he taught the English language and wrote Thomas's story. The memoir, Marching Powder, was released in 2003 and was an international bestseller. Following the success of Marching Powder, Rusty was recruited as a Program Director of the US government's Anti-Kidnapping Program in Colombia. He was part of a team that trained local police, military and SWAT teams in kidnapping response and hostage rescue. At the time, Colombia had an average of eight kidnappings a day. It was a role fraught with danger and Rusty lived part-time on a military base, drove a Level III armoured vehicle, communicated with colleagues via encrypted radio and changed houses in Bogotá a dozen times. He kept this work completely secret. Through police and army contacts, Rusty was able to interview special forces soldiers, including snipers and undercover intelligence agents, about their work. He also interviewed captured child soldiers from the two main terrorist organisations – FARC and Autodefensas. The former soldiers, some as young at twelve when they joined, described in great detail their reasons for enlisting, their hatred of the enemy, their gruelling military training, their political indoctrination and their horrific experiences in battle. Once Rusty had earned their trust, they also opened up to him about gruesome tortures they were forced to witness or participate in. These interviews, along with Rusty’s extensive in-the-field knowledge about cocaine trafficking, formed the factual setting and background for his novel Colombiano, a fact-meets-fiction revenge thriller. Colombiano was published in Australia in August 2017 and was the highest-selling Australian fiction title that month. It will be released worldwide in 2018. In 2011, Rusty co-founded the Colombian Children’s Foundation of Australia, which helps rehabilitate and resocialise former child soldiers. Currently, his house in Bogotá is the charity’s headquarters. Ten percent of his royalties of Colombiano will go to the foundation, which has almost 200 former child soldiers under care. Rusty also fronts the documentary Wildlands (2017) in which he interviews notorious characters formerly involved in the cocaine trade, including George Jung – famously played by Johnny Depp in the movie Blow – and, more terrifyingly, John Velasquez or “Popeye”, Pablo Escobar’s right-hand man and one of the deadliest hitmen in cartel history.
There is a wonderful audio interview with Young here - https://www.nla.gov.au/stories/audio/author-talk-with-rusty-young