My Colombian Death
My Colombian Death is a nonfiction adventure book about the "allure of risk" by the adventure writer and journalist Matthew Thompson.
The book (published in Australia and New Zealand in 2008 by Pan Macmillan/Picador) covers Thompson's 2006 experiences in Colombia where he roamed the country, spending time at carnivals and with gang members and cocaine dealers, ran with bulls, played the explosive drinking game of tejo, met Salvatore Mancuso, the then-head of the right-wing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a US-designated terrorist organisation, made friends in the bohemian circles of Medellin and drank the legendary shamanic hallucinogen, yage AKA (ayahuasca).
My Colombian Death also explores the frustration that led Thompson to throw in his job as a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald and take leave of his young family for the dangers of Colombia.
"Life as it's been dished up will never present the range and depth of experience necessary for me to know myself, to test my nerve, my courage, my desires and my limits. I crave a world where tension is wired through all aspects of life, the drama shaping everything from what people murmur to their lovers to how they brave the streets."
Through his unceasing pursuit of risk Thompson finds what he is looking for, but in the case of the shamanic yage ceremony which simulates death, it becomes too much for him to bear:<"The villain in Colombia, the one to watch out for, was me. I'm the king of deception, and now that it's dawning, no matter how hard I will myself up, to get up and live and live in the truth, there's no traction, it's too fucking late. Every cell in my body is coming to total, terminal stillness. Panic detonates into endlessly expanding terror."
The immersion journalism of My Colombian Death is a professional departure for Matthew Thompson, who had previously written more conventional newspaper and magazine journalism, yet is a winner of the University Medal in English literature at the University of Newcastle.
Thompson says he had grown frustrated with the "corporate caution" of newspaper journalism after the SMH declined to run his reportage from the war in the southern Philippines.
After the 2002 Bali bombings by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Thompson had been investigating the war against JI, the Abu Sayyaf and related Islamic insurgents in the islands of the southern Philippines where JI had conducted training."Mullahs, Guns and Money", Investigate Australia, March 2005. "On Terror's Frontline", Investigate Australia, July 2005.
Picador has reprinted My Colombian Death several times, reissuing it in 2009 in a new format and with a new cover.
My Colombian Death was widely reviewed, with literary critics generally describing it as compelling, distinctive and well written. Some expressed moral reservations about Thompson for leaving his wife and child to go on his mind-bending journey through Colombia, while others saw Thompson and his psychology as in the tradition of existentialism. The book was also recognised as a contemporary work of gonzo journalism and/or immersion journalism, genres less common in Australian literature than in the US.
The Australian: "A wonderful work of nonfiction that demonstrates ... writing and risk in all their raging glory. ... ... The point of Thompson's journey, and of his book, is the existentialist one that a life lived entirely within a defined role, and in which we are not redefining ourselves every instant, is barely life at all." [*]Running with the Wild Bulls, in The Australian, February 7, 2009.
Global Media Journal: "A compelling, evocative and beautifully written book that shows civil war as a cruelty inflicted on individuals, this sustained investigation illustrates the dimensions of actuality in Colombia that conventional reporting so often avoids.". [*]Matthew Thompson - My Colombian Death, in Global Media Journal (2009).
The Sydney Morning Herald: "The book leaves unanswered some questions ... Why did he [Thompson] wait until the age of 35 to rebel? Why did he walk just when there was a high-maintenance baby in the home? ... But the book is full of vivid detail from someone with an intriguing story to tell and my feeling is Thompson is a writer to watch." [*]A Hunger For Anything Except More of the Same, in The Sydney Morning Herald, August 1, 2008.
The Sunday Territorian: "Carlos Castaneda meets Rambo with a media pass. ... Thompsons search for himself is relentless. And it brings fresh meaning to the term immersion journalism, of which My Colombian Death is almost certainly one of the most bizarre and extreme recent examples. ... My Colombian Death is a hellride through South Americas deadliest melting pot that readers will find difficult to forget." [*]Colombia helps writer find life - and death, in the Sunday Territorian, July 27, 2008.
My Colombian Death at Picador
My Colombian Death book excerpt, Skive Magazine, June 2009
Article about My Colombian Death as a work of existentialist gonzo in The Australian
Very colorful review in the Sunday Territorian
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