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Rusty Young p1

READERSVOICE.COM aims to collect a few interesting reading tips. For this edition, I went along to hear Rusty Young talk about his novel Colombiano, which is set in the Colombian civil war. He also talked about his non-fiction travel book Marching Powder, and the documentary Wildlands about the Bolivian drug trade. He gave some good reading tips, too.

The most horrific stories Rusty Young heard in Colombia were from child soldiers. They joined militias fighting in the Colombian Conflict because that was the only way they could receive three meals a day. Many women joined, too. “Ninety-five per cent of the kids I interviewed joined up voluntarily,” he said.
Rusty Young interviewed many people to research for his novel Colombiano, set against the Colombian Conflict or civil war. It had been going on since the mid-1960s. Participants included communist forces like FARC and the ELN, trying to gain control of the country, and financing their operations with drug dealing and kidnapping. Then there were right-wing militias fighting them. Then there were crime syndicates like the Medellin drug cartel. Not to mention corrupt governments. Mr Young spoke to people from all these groups. He also spoke to farmers just trying to get on with their lives, priests, educators, undercover agents and dozens of child soldiers.
He said he was going to tell one story in a non-fiction book on the Colombian civil war, but the stories of so many people didn’t overlap in the war, and they came and left at different times. So he decided to write a novel. But “real people informed different characters in the novel”.
The main character Pedro Gutiérrez is a teenager whose father is executed in front of him by guerrillas. He and his mother have to leave their farm. Pedro seeks revenge on the five killers. He and his friend Palillo join a paramilitary group and enter a world of overt violence.
Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a big influence on Colombiano, Mr Young said, especially One Hundred Years of Solitude. Marquez’s 1967 novel is a multi-generational story about the Buendia family. It’s in the magical realist genre, and was influenced by modernism.
While Colombiano wasn’t magical realism, there was that quality in the stories told by the Columbians he interviewed for his novel, both negative and positive stories, he said.
Previously, Rusty Young wrote a non-fiction travel book of sorts, Marching Powder, against the backdrop of the cocaine trade in Bolivia. Mr Young said it had only taken four months to research the book, one year to write, six months editing and six months to come out after that, he said.
But ten years went into the writing of the 689-page Colombiano, he said.

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– copyright Simon Sandall