A Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls – Book Review and Launch Write Up

A-Reluctant-Warrior-Kelly-Brooke-Nicholls-1-265x400Title: A Reluctant Warrior

Author: Kelly Brooke Nicholls

Genre: Fiction, Political Thriller

Publisher: The Author People

Published: 28th of June, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 232

Price: $26.99

Synopsis:
When Luzma’s brother Jair unwittingly uncovers the plan by Colombia’s most notorious drug cartel to smuggle an unprecedented cocaine shipment into the US, it puts their family in grave danger.

Jair’s kidnapping by the cartel, forces Luzma to go face to face with vicious paramilitary leader, El Cubano, and General Ordonez, ruthless head of the military – men who will stop at nothing to protect their empires. But for Luzma, nothing is more important than saving her family – not even her own life.

While the story and characters in A Reluctant Warrior are fictitious, they are based on events Kelly Brooke Nicholls witnessed first-hand while living and working in Colombia. During this time, she interviewed thousands of victims of paramilitaries, guerrilla and drug cartels. She knows Buenaventura, where the novel is set, intimately, including the most notorious neighborhoods where foreigners rarely venture. She worked closely with the former Andean Director of the Drug Enforcement Administration to help her realistically map the events in this novel.

Now her gripping novel of one young woman’s terrifying encounter with Colombia’s most notorious drug cartel gives readers a rare glimpse into Colombia’s drug wars and their impact on ordinary citizens.

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aww2017-badgeA Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls is, at its heart, a story about people, and a story worth telling. It is Luzma’s (Luz-Marina Cuesto) of standing up to the cartels, paramilitary and guerrillas in Colombia after her brother, Jair, is kidnapped after inadvertently getting caught up with them and seeing and hearing things he shouldn’t, and the entire plot covers about two weeks of searching for him, and trying to face up to the cartels that ravage the nation and city of Buenaventura. Luzma is yanked unwillingly into the war against drugs and the cartels after Jair disappears and her family is threatened. Working with an American, Rafa, and his contacts in the DEA to find Jair, and capture El Cubano, Luzma also hopes to prevent a shipment of drugs reaching the United States, and will put her life and humanity on the line to do so.

Luzma’s story is a powerful one, and one that needs to be told, because we do not hear enough about what goes in in Colombia, and the drug trade, and related human rights abuses, where people like El Cubano think, feel and say that they can do what they want, when they want, how they want and to whoever they want – because who is going to stop them? This attitude strikes right to the heart of the novel and reveals what ordinary people have to deal with, or turn a blind eye to the goings on if they want to stay alive. It was Luzma’s stubborn drive that kept her going, something that at times, could be frustrating, yet at the same time, showed her determination and strength, and her ability to fight back and fight for what mattered: her family.

Stories like this need to be told – even in a fictional format, because doing so reveals a world that many probably don’t realise exists, or maybe they do and they feel powerless. Luzma’s story gives the people in the situation she finds herself in a voice, and Kelly constructed this voice through interviews with Afro-Colombians like Luzma caught up in the conflict, caught up in trafficking and human rights abuses, and through these very real people, both in Colombia and the DEA, has written an authentic story that is both moving and terrifying in equal parts. It is a story that highlights the inequalities in the world, and the inequalities and abuses throughout history that have brought the characters to where they are in the story, and why they are the way they are. Why some fight, and some turn a blind eye. Why some feel they can take what they want without consequences, and why some are caught in between, scared of the cartels, and wanting to keep their heads down, but at the same time, when push comes to shove, showing their loyalty and willingness to put themselves in dangerous positions.

Though the DEA and other federal agencies become involved. Luzma, and the man who starts helping her at the start, Rafael, are the driving force behind the fight. Luzma is strong, stubborn and determined, but when it comes to her brother, Jair, shows a vulnerability that she winds up using to her benefit to find Jair and towards the end of the novel. Throughout the novel, the human cost of this hidden, not often spoken about war is shown in a myriad of ways.

I can see why this took Kelly almost a decade to write. The amount of research, through interviews and reading, and travel that she did would have taken a considerable amount of time, and constructing the story into what it became certainly would have taken a decent amount of time to achieve the emotional impact that it has on the reader.

A fantastically written novel about issues not often spoken about, but that need to be. I now know a lot more about Colombia and the cartels than I did, and the story is enhanced by Kelly’s own experiences in Colombia that were the impetus and trigger for this story.

ABOUT KELLY

Kelly Brooke Nicholls’ fascination with other cultures was instilled in her early years growing up on a boat in the south pacific islands. She’s been passionate about human rights from an early age and following a stint as a journalist at Australian Associated Press she moved to Latin America when she was 23. From there she was compelled to make a difference and help people affected by conflict, abuse and extreme poverty. She has over 15 years’ senior leadership experience working for NGOs ranging from Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders to a small indigenous-led organisation in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Her extensive time living and working in Colombia has left an indelible mark. She has travelled extensively to places few foreigners have been, researching and documenting the impact of the ongoing war on ordinary citizens and the horrendous human rights abuses inflicted on them.

Kelly wrote her novel A Reluctant Warrior to help shine a light on the way ordinary Colombian citizens have suffered and continue to suffer, despite the advancement in the Peace Agreement. But more than that, she wrote this book to celebrate, support and amplify the message of the brave people who risk their lives to protect and make a difference to others.

Kelly strongly believes that everyone has the ability to make a difference in the world and bring about positive change, and has spent her life helping people achieve that.

Kelly lives on the Northern Beaches of Sydney with her Colombian husband and two sons.

A Reluctant Warrior Book Launch: Gleebooks, 30th June, 2017

 

Just over a month ago, I attended the book launch of A Reluctant Warrior by special invitation of Kelly herself, and was able to arrive earlier to chat with her publisher, Lou Johnson from The Author People. At the beginning of the year, I responded to a job advertisement from Kelly, seeking a Publishing Intern who could work from home to research various places to feature reviews of the book, interviews with Kelly and general websites of interest in relation to Colombia and Latin America for potential readers. It was because of this work that I received the invitation, and so, headed down to Gleebooks at the end of June to attend the launch.

At the launch, Kelly and Lou sat up the front of the function area and chatted about the book, and the inspiration behind the book – in their words, a unique read, and one that Kelly was inspired, and compelled to write after her work in Colombia. She was overwhelmed by the violence she saw – and found herself asking: how do people get to that level of violence? In contrast, she saw those who stood up to the violence – human rights defenders, ordinary people, risking their lives – it was these people that inspired the character of Luzma, and that helped to make the story as accurate and authentic as possible.

For Kelly, the story came before the compulsion to tell it, and in doing so, she feels she has given a voice to the voiceless and the human rights defenders and victims of the fifty-two year conflict that we hear so little about in Australia. At the launch, Kelly said writing this story was about getting people to care, and she wrote it so that anyone could pick it up and read it, leaving it open at the end to ask questions about what might happen next.

Kelly’s discussion about what Colombia, and the port city where the story is set is like cemented the image in the story – from the ramshackle houses that were slapped together, to the constant disappearances and recruitment of young children, to the inability of people to escape, all came together in A Reluctant Warrior and provided a background to the story, and allowed for immersion – all depicted in the novel as it was when Kelly was in Colombia.

This talk at the launch gave greater insight into the book, and as I was reading it over the past few days, doing so after attending the launch made making the connections with Kelly’s personal story and the fictional story more powerful, and allowed me to appreciate it more, even though Kelly and I had previously met and discussed the book and her experiences, hearing more about them gave more strength to the story I have just read.

Following Kelly’s talk with Lou about the book, I was able to chat with Lou about writing and publishing, and it was a fairly busy even – about fifty people were in attendance for the talk and to get their books signed. It was the first book launch I have ever really attended and was a little nervous about meeting Lou, who is such a lovely and generous person who has been helping me to make contacts in the industry I want to work in. People came and went after Kelly and Lou had had their chat, so I didn’t stay for the entire launch as Dad and I had to get back to the Central Coast, but it was a lovely evening and Gleebooks has a fantastic space for a book launches and author events upstairs, with a divine selection of books to choose from.

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Small Press – The Author People, originally posted on Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

The latest in my series on small presses, including a little taste of my chat with Lou Johnson at the book launch for A Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls. I hope my review of Kelly’s book will follow soon.

Lou Johnson founded The Author People and is located in the same offices as Murdoch Books and Allen and Unwin. She is currently in the role of Publishing Director at Murdoch Books as well as running The Author People – so Lou has a lot on her plate! With a long career in publishing that…

via Small Publisher Spotlight: The Author People — Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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Under The Same Sky by Mogjan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight

under the same sky.jpg

 

 

Title: Under the Same Sky
Author: Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight
Genre: Non-fiction, biography
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 26th April 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 331
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The powerful and incredibly moving story of Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari – two young Iranian asylum seekers who are showing that the power of love can conquer all obstacles.
After fleeing their homeland, Australian refugee policies threaten to tear this young couple apart. An unforgettable story of love, hope and a quest for freedom.
At seventeen, all Mojgan Shamsalipoor wanted was to be safe from physical and sexual abuse, go to school, and to eventually marry for love. In Iran, she was denied all of this.
Milad Jafari was a shy teenage boy who found his voice as a musician. But the rap music he loved was illegal in his country. All Milad’s father, a key maker, builder and shopkeeper, wanted was for his family to live free from the fear of arrest, imprisonment or execution. To do that they all had to flee Iran.
Mojgan and Milad met in Australia. But in the months between their separate sea voyages, the Australian government changed the way asylum seekers were treated. Though Milad is recognised as a refugee and will soon become a proud Australian citizen, Mojgan has been told she cannot stay here even though the threat of imprisonment and further abuse, or worse, means she can’t return to Iran.
UNDER THE SAME SKY, is a powerful insight into the human face of asylum seekers and the way history has shaped the lives of these two young people. It also shows the compassion alive in our suburbs. For Mojgan and Milad, their love keeps their hopes alive.

~*~

Under the Same Sky is the story of Mojgan and Milad’s lives in Iran, and their escape as asylum seekers to Australia. In Iran, both led very different lives under a regime that restricted what women could do, and promoted one religion over all others, persecuting anyone who didn’t fall into line with what the government dictated to them. Eventually, both their families saw the need to flee: Milad’s together, and Mojgan with one of her older brothers, Hossein. With the government as it was, each had to pretend they were only headed to Indonesia for holidays, and that they would return to Iran. Doing it this way, they were able to leave, yet still had to find a way to Australia, where they hoped to find safety. In each chapter, Mojgan and Milad tell their story as their journeys progress, and in some ways, they had similar journeys, but in other ways, their experiences as asylum seekers and refugees differed.

After traumatic events that led to Mojgan and Hossein fleeing Iran for Australia – with the uncertainty of their fate and the fate of the family members they had had to leave behind, and months spent in detention, the two met at a Baha’i camp, and became good friends, and eventually, started dating. However, the government had decided on Mojgan and Hossein’s fate – they had not been granted visas and after months of living in community detention, and a relationship, and marriage between Mojgan and Milad, the brother and sister were sent back to detention, where they were again in limbo, awaiting decisions.

Throughout these turbulent times, Milad, his family and the friends and teachers Mojgan had met at Yeronga at school began fighting for her to be freed, and returned to a safe home with people who cared about her. This fight is included in the story, in some of the chapters told by James Knight, who gives a lot of background to the instability of Iran and the changing attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees and their treatment. Mojgan’s experiences in detention affected her deeply –even though she wasn’t always harshly treated, the instances she was, and the guards who were rough with her stood out in her mind. Even the guards who tried to help her , who were nice, couldn’t fully erase these experiences.

At the time of the publication of the book and the writing of this review, a final decision is yet to be made and Mojgan and Hossein, though now living with Milad and his family, are still in limbo.

Mojgan and Milad’s story sheds light on an issue that is fraught with complexities and often simplified in the media – which does not always allow for in depth discussion. Mogjan, Milad and James all acknowledge throughout the complexities, especially in the constantly changing attitudes at the political level and in public opinion about refugees, illustrated by interviews with teachers who knew Mogjan and Milad, and quotes from papers about refugees and asylum seekers and references to speeches by the former Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison. What these do is to establish the political backdrop of Australia, and in a way, contrast it against what Milad and Mojgan ran from – the stark contrast of a dictatorship like Iran, whose government demanded to know the whereabouts of Mogjan long after she left, and the freedom of Australia that they sought but that they were unsure they would ever gain. James Knight’s statements are supportive of those who helped Mogjan and Milad, and less supportive of the government of the time. Some come across as political because issues of asylum seekers and refugees can never be divorced from politics, but I feel like he fell short of outright condemnation and name-calling.

It was an interesting book to read, because it presented a side to the issue not often seen, and one that maybe, should be given more attention. Cases such as Mogjan and Milad’s, where they’ve fled danger and persecution, and simply want a safer life, are the ones we should be hearing about as well as any negative stories that come out. Reading it, I felt moved and shocked by what Mogjan had gone through in Iran and detention. It is only their experiences of fleeing and people smugglers, and becoming asylum seekers. It touches on the issue of how difficult it can be to leave a place like Iran for good. I recommend it for anyone interested in human rights and those wanting to know about the experience from the perspective of someone who has been there.