A Colombian-born journalist returns to her homeland in an attempt to reconcile her own past and her country’s chaotic present.
Paternostro (In The Land of God and Man: Confronting Our Sexual Culture, 1998), a reporter and senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, turns her pointed journalistic skills inward to examine her own identity in the larger context of her roots in Colombia, a place revealed here as “a beautiful country with an awful history and a terrible present.” Although the author left the country in the turbulent 1980s, her identity now as much American as Latin, Colombia haunts her as she stares every morning at a map and imagines it as a corporal entity, assigning a divided body part to each of the country’s disparate regions. Paternostro takes assignments that suit her “personal inquisition,” traveling to each region to pursue stories of kidnapping, drug-running and the politics of rebellion. These, however, are mostly missions of convenience, as the author adopts the subjects of her stories for comparison against her own experiences of the country. The voices that emerge—ranging from an American soldier in the drug war who goes native, to the everyday citizens who have learned to accept gunfire and kidnapping as a part of life—are vivid and compelling characters in the author’s introspective history. There is something of a dichotomy between the Paternostro’s remembrances of her fortunate childhood as the daughter of an acclaimed economist and her reportage of the country’s violent civil war. Because of that split, her overarching themes occasionally become muddled by the accounts of current events. Yet her poetic descriptions of the country’s cultural conventions and fractured consciousness do much to enliven her account of a Colombian war that is, in the end, “brutal, sad, incoherent, and rarely resolved.” While some of these labels certainly apply to segments of the book, its graceful melancholy and conscientious reporting elevate it beyond the customary journalist’s memoir.
A conflicted memoir of bodegas, bullets and a country tearing itself apart from within.