My Colombian War

A Journey Through the Country I Left Behind

By Silvana Paternostro
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805076059, 336pp.)

Publication Date: November 13, 2007

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

Shop Local
Enter your zip code below to find indies closest to you.



A timely, evocative account of a reporter's reckoning with her homeland's volatile past Growing up in the coastal city of Barranquilla, Colombia, Silvana Paternostro indulged in the typical concerns of a privileged young girl: friendships and parties, school and family. But soon it became apparent that life in Colombia would not go on as usual. Strange planes appeared overhead, the harbingers of the marijuana drug trade that would explode into cocaine wars over the next decade, and soon after, a disputed election would lead to demonstrations and kidnappings targeting the affluent landed elite--including Paternostro's family. A revolution was brewing, and the social inequalities reflected in her life would boil over into the most violent, most protracted, and most misunderstood civil war of our time.
In My Colombian War, Paternostro journeys back to the place where her family and her closest friends still live, weaving authentic experience into a history of this ongoing conflict. Through interviews she allows us to witness the treacherous war zone that Colombia has become, projected on the daily lives of its citizens. Paternostro's book is a stunning, comprehensive narrative of Colombia's past and present.

About the Author

Silvana Paternostro is a Colombian-born journalist. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, and Time, among other publications, and she is the author of In the Land of God and Man, a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award. In 1999 she was selected by Time/CNN as one of the fifty Latin American leaders for the millennium. A senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, Paternostro lives in New York City.

Praise For My Colombian War

"A nation's narrative rendered through a personal prism, this evocative work succeeds where many similar efforts fail.  The secret?  Paternostro herself, a deservedly celebrated journalist, able to deftly interweave past and present and write with a compassion that resists pathos.  A child of relative privilege, she left a violently changing Colombia for the States at age 15; decades later she returned as a reporter, and what follows is revelatory.  Wrenching interviews with today's Colombians, unflinching descriptions of the horrors wrought by drug cartels and paramilitary groups, and unusual details keenly conveyed amount to a moving, highly memorable take on how a country lost its moorings."—The Atlantic

“The gifted journalist Silvana Paternostro confronts her own past, her family’s past, and Colombia’s past, in this indispensable guide to the drama currently being played out in the Latin south: a drug-haunted, tangled drama of feuds, rival warlords, criminal mafias, kidnappings, and endless civil wars. An intensely personal memoir, it demonstrates at the same time a firm grasp of the political, economic, and social realities that provide the background against which the headline news of Colombia in 2007, and 2008 and succeeding years, will continue to unfold. It makes fascinating reading.”—David Fromkin, Professor of International Relations, Boston University “In this elegant and riveting exploration of Colombia, Silvana Paternostro journeys back to her homeland to confront the country that has long held a hypnotic hold on her psyche. My Colombian War offers not only insight into the troubled legacy of Colombia, but presents a beautiful portrait of a woman’s heartbreaking journey to understand the meaning of home.”—Danielle Trussoni, author of Falling Through the Earth
My Colombian War cuts far deeper than the typical work of an international journalist, while at the same time, by tying Paternostro's quest to rediscover the country she left as a teenager to the violent yet moving history and culture of that nation more generally, achieving the status of something altogether superior to simple memoir. This is personal history writ large, a moving, admirably objective, and deeply courageous examination of how Colombia has arrived at its present troubled state, sometimes with the aid of outsiders, sometimes all on its own; and it could only have been written by someone with Paternostro's unique personal history, gift of observation, and record of laying bare the myths of Latin America. An absolute must for anyone who either aspires to an understanding of what is happening in the region, or who simply wants to read about a life that has been genuinely fascinating.”—Caleb Carr, author of The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians “In this intensely honest and revealing memoir, Silvana Paternostro takes us on her own Rip van Winkle voyage of return to her beloved, violent homeland. It is a compellingly bittersweet chronicle, with touches of great beauty, much like Colombia itself.”—Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life and The Fall of Baghdad 

“Intimate, emotion-saturated portrait . . . the flavors and the colors are vivid . . . [a] compelling picture of contemporary Colombia and the roots of its problems. . . . a gift for the rest of us.”—William Grimes, The New York Times


“Paternostro’s stunning, no-nonsense prose truly lets you into her mind and the country’s history.”—Marie Claire

Indie Bookstore Finder

Update Profile