In Colombia you have to pick a side. Or one will be picked for you . . .
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.
COLOMBIANO is one of those huge (689 pages huge) sweeping saga styled novels that has enough story to fill those pages, although this is raw, gut-wrenching, frequently shocking stuff. Especially if you know there are aspects of somebody's true story built into a fictional telling.
Not for the light-hearted, or weak of arm if you're going to be reading a paperback / hardback copy COLOMBIANO starts out with an author prologue which is well worth reading as it tells the background to the story, then moves into Part One - Little Pedro commencing with the line:
They came on a Wednesday to execute my father.
They did indeed execute Pedro's father, after a few chapters that describe the lead up to the execution, the reasons, and then into the aftermath. Switching rapidly backwards and forwards between events and timelines, Pedro's father's death is sadly just another pointless execution in a long line of guerrilla warfare - rebels versus government / right versus wrong (hard to decide which is which) and violence. Loss, violence, deprivation, cruelty, sadness, inter-generational hatred, revenge, bitterness, dark humour... it's all here in spades.
Whilst the book itself is a thumping big undertaking COLOMBIANO is told in a series of short, sharp chapters, switching the focus and timelines around all the time, keeping the reader from having to concentrate too hard on just the worst aspects, sprinkling in a little bit of coming-of-age story, trying to balance the descent into madness with love as an uplifting counter-point.
Hard going, with an authentic voice that makes it emotionally challenging and confronting, COLOMBIANO is well worth pursuing - even if the size is off-putting. This reads, feels and is telegraphed in the prologue as something this author was passionately driven to produce.