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A Gringa in Bogotá: Living Colombia's Invisible War

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To many foreigners, Colombia is a nightmare of drugs and violence. Yet normal life goes on there, and, in Bogotá, it’s even possible to forget that war still ravages the countryside. This paradox of perceptions—outsiders’ fears versus insiders’ realities—drew June Carolyn Erlick back to Bogotá for a year’s stay in 2005. She wanted to understand how the city she first came To many foreigners, Colombia is a nightmare of drugs and violence. Yet normal life goes on there, and, in Bogotá, it’s even possible to forget that war still ravages the countryside. This paradox of perceptions—outsiders’ fears versus insiders’ realities—drew June Carolyn Erlick back to Bogotá for a year’s stay in 2005. She wanted to understand how the city she first came to love in 1975 has made such strides toward building a peaceful civil society in the midst of ongoing violence. The complex reality she found comes to life in this compelling memoir. Erlick creates her portrait of Bogotá through a series of vivid vignettes that cover many aspects of city life. As an experienced journalist, she lets the things she observes lead her to larger conclusions. The courtesy of people on buses, the absence of packs of stray dogs and street trash, and the willingness of strangers to help her cross an overpass when vertigo overwhelms her all become signs of convivencia—the desire of Bogotanos to live together in harmony despite decades of war. But as Erlick settles further into city life, she finds that “war in the city is invisible, but constantly present in subtle ways, almost like the constant mist that used to drip down from the Bogotá skies so many years ago.” Shattering stereotypes with its lively reporting, A Gringa in Bogotá is must-reading for going beyond the headlines about the drug war and bloody conflict.


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To many foreigners, Colombia is a nightmare of drugs and violence. Yet normal life goes on there, and, in Bogotá, it’s even possible to forget that war still ravages the countryside. This paradox of perceptions—outsiders’ fears versus insiders’ realities—drew June Carolyn Erlick back to Bogotá for a year’s stay in 2005. She wanted to understand how the city she first came To many foreigners, Colombia is a nightmare of drugs and violence. Yet normal life goes on there, and, in Bogotá, it’s even possible to forget that war still ravages the countryside. This paradox of perceptions—outsiders’ fears versus insiders’ realities—drew June Carolyn Erlick back to Bogotá for a year’s stay in 2005. She wanted to understand how the city she first came to love in 1975 has made such strides toward building a peaceful civil society in the midst of ongoing violence. The complex reality she found comes to life in this compelling memoir. Erlick creates her portrait of Bogotá through a series of vivid vignettes that cover many aspects of city life. As an experienced journalist, she lets the things she observes lead her to larger conclusions. The courtesy of people on buses, the absence of packs of stray dogs and street trash, and the willingness of strangers to help her cross an overpass when vertigo overwhelms her all become signs of convivencia—the desire of Bogotanos to live together in harmony despite decades of war. But as Erlick settles further into city life, she finds that “war in the city is invisible, but constantly present in subtle ways, almost like the constant mist that used to drip down from the Bogotá skies so many years ago.” Shattering stereotypes with its lively reporting, A Gringa in Bogotá is must-reading for going beyond the headlines about the drug war and bloody conflict.

40 review for A Gringa in Bogotá: Living Colombia's Invisible War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    It´s hard for me to argue with this author because she has been in Bogota longer, and more recently, than I have or ever plan to be. Much of what she says rings true and she contextualizes events, people, places within a broader landscape of politics, economics and history than I would know. So it´s quite good and worthwhile in that sense. On the other hand, she both romanticizes the Colombian people - they work so hard, they're so nice to her - and insists on pursuing an "invisible war" as a It´s hard for me to argue with this author because she has been in Bogota longer, and more recently, than I have or ever plan to be. Much of what she says rings true and she contextualizes events, people, places within a broader landscape of politics, economics and history than I would know. So it´s quite good and worthwhile in that sense. On the other hand, she both romanticizes the Colombian people - they work so hard, they're so nice to her - and insists on pursuing an "invisible war" as a topic that only seems to come up when she mentions it. I will argue with many things she says here, but then I will send copies in Spanish to my relatives in Bogotá to see what they think.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nora

    As someone who knows what it's like to fall in love with a city despite its flaws, I absolutely loved this book. Erlick 's comparison of all the facets of life in Colombia thirty years ago to the present was thoughtful, openminded and entertaining. I'm confident others who aren't Latin Americanists or Colombia -philes like me would enjoy it as well. I will say I appreciated Erlick's multisided perspective on the conflict that continues to rage in many parts of the country. As someone who knows what it's like to fall in love with a city despite its flaws, I absolutely loved this book. Erlick 's comparison of all the facets of life in Colombia thirty years ago to the present was thoughtful, openminded and entertaining. I'm confident others who aren't Latin Americanists or Colombia -philes like me would enjoy it as well. I will say I appreciated Erlick's multisided perspective on the conflict that continues to rage in many parts of the country.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Stories are well told. It focuses on Bogota, a fascinating and often misunderstood city, but touches many other regions of Colombia. Many of the stories are connected to the conflict, which I didn't quite expect. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Colombia or South America. Stories are well told. It focuses on Bogota, a fascinating and often misunderstood city, but touches many other regions of Colombia. Many of the stories are connected to the conflict, which I didn't quite expect. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Colombia or South America.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    I've never been to Bogota, but I can relate to Erlick's experiences of being a gringa in a large Latin American city. It's difficult to gauge how accurate her assessments of Bogota and Colombia are, especially as she is a privileged older white lady (which she acknowledges). It's a pleasant read, and I hope to one day go to Colombia. I've never been to Bogota, but I can relate to Erlick's experiences of being a gringa in a large Latin American city. It's difficult to gauge how accurate her assessments of Bogota and Colombia are, especially as she is a privileged older white lady (which she acknowledges). It's a pleasant read, and I hope to one day go to Colombia.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Not magical realism - more like touring with a down to earth friend who's discovering the place and trying to learn what it's really like to live there. Gave it to an expat Colombian who was encouraged that she got past American headlines and noticed changes happening. Not magical realism - more like touring with a down to earth friend who's discovering the place and trying to learn what it's really like to live there. Gave it to an expat Colombian who was encouraged that she got past American headlines and noticed changes happening.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lorena

  8. 5 out of 5

    JmeDoom

  9. 5 out of 5

    Flan_again

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Aranda

  11. 5 out of 5

    Angela Gonzalez

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rusty Wrench

  13. 5 out of 5

    Santiago Cembrano

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor Jones

  16. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily Iva

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Santos

  19. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Hennig

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tim Lambert

  22. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

  23. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

  25. 4 out of 5

    Teresaoatt

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Louise

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marjie

  29. 4 out of 5

    University of Texas Press

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andy Chirls

  31. 5 out of 5

    Elizabethmm

  32. 5 out of 5

    Mikal Rian

  33. 5 out of 5

    Bennett

  34. 4 out of 5

    Jose Laverde

  35. 5 out of 5

    Ana

  36. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

  37. 5 out of 5

    Reinaldo Villabona

  38. 5 out of 5

    Staci

  39. 5 out of 5

    Mustapha Mustash

  40. 4 out of 5

    Paige

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