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Leonor: The Story of a Lost Childhood
OR Books (2023)

ISBN: 978-1682194478

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Paula Delgado-Kling takes us to her homeland, Colombia, where she finds answers to the country’s drug wars by examining the life of Leonor, a former child soldier in the FARC, a rural guerrilla group.

Paula followed Leonor for nineteen years, from shortly after she was an active member forced into sexual slavery by a commander thirty-four years her senior, through her rehabilitation and struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, to more recent days, as the mom of two girls. Leonor’s immense resourcefulness and imagination in the face of horrendous circumstances helped her carve a space for herself in the FARC, a world dominated by males. She is beautiful, and by honing her powers of seduction, Leonor created a parallel world where she made herself a protagonist. She never stopped believing that she was a woman of worth and importance. It took her many years of therapy to accept that she was a victim. For half a lifetime, she regarded herself as “the First Lady of the Southern Bloc,” and exploited any power she fabricated for herself to stay alive.

Colombia’s violence also touched Paula’s family. This narrative began with the question: why was her brother kidnapped and why were his guards teenagers?

Editorial Reviews

“In this small but gutting work of memoir-meets-biography, Colombian journalist Paula Delgado-Kling chronicles two lives that intersect in violence: hers, and that of Leonor, a Colombian child soldier who was beckoned into the guerilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) only to endure years of death and abuse. Over the course of 19 years, Delgado-Kling followed Leonor through her recruitment into FARC; her sexual slavery to a man decades her senior; her eventual escape; and her rehabilitation. The author’s resulting account is visceral, a clear-eyed account of the utterly human impact wrought by war.”
Elle Magazine: The Best (and Most Anticipated) Nonfiction Books of 2024, So Far
View the full list here

“Visceral reporting of Colombia drug gang trauma by a committed journalist. … . In the end, Leonor’s story has no neat resolution, but Delgado-Kling never wavers in her devastating portrait of unspeakable suffering.”
Kirkus Reviews
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“… writes with courage, deep insight and empathy about an important global human rights issue. The stories of Colombians are reconstructed here with delicacy, assurance and candor, and paint an intimate and detailed portrait of the author’s homeland. The child soldier Leonor will not be forgotten.”
Jeffery Renard Allen, author of the novels Song of the ShankRails Under My BackHolding PatternStellar PlacesHarbors & Spirits, and Fat Time and Other Stories

“… marvelous voyage of personal self-discovery provides the backdrop for a heartbreaking and vivid portrait of children caught between terrorism and growing up. This is an ingenious combination of memoir and commentary, a compelling firsthand account of the greed, social neglect, and deliberate misrule that has forced many Latin American children and families to seek a better life in the arms of terrorist groups.”
Ernesto Quiñonez, author of the novels Bodega Dreams, Chango’s Fire, and Taina: A Novel

“ … incredibly well-researched memoir is a brave and devastating investigation of the decades of violence that have torn apart Colombia. […] looks with unflinching grace at heart-breaking, complicated stories of trauma and survival, beginning with the story of the child soldier Leonor. But this is also a deeply personal memoir. […] writes about how her family—involved since the nineteenth century with politics in Colombia—suffers from and is implicated in the violence. […] spares no one and condemns no one, writing about the country and the people she loves with honesty, grit and generosity. I couldn’t put this book down.”
Luis Jaramillo, author of the novel The Doctor’s Wife

“Leonor’s story is tragic and unforgettable, and offers a compelling perspective into Colombia’s decades-long civil conflict. Delgado-Kling recounts Leonor’s life—full of pain, violence, and an indefatigable commitment to recovery—with candor and grace. That story alone would have sufficed to carry this narrative, but Delgado-Kling deftly incorporates her own family’s painful (and privileged) experience of Colombia’s violent recent history. The contrasts between Delgado-Kling’s and Leonor’s lives are stark, but the author’s capacity to bridge that distance indicates both her ambition as a writer and serves as a reminder of the utter pervasiveness of trauma that this long conflict has inflicted on Colombians.”
Emily Nemens, author of The Cactus League

“To read Paula Delgado-Kling’s Leonor is to go inside the most intimate and complicated thoughts of two Colombian women, one a daughter of utmost privilege, the other of abject poverty whose paths are entwined because of the horrors and the traumas caused by their country’s never-ending civil strife. Thanks to Delgado-Kling’s keen sensitivity,  we are shown a rare view of both the highest and the lowest Colombia has to offer.”
Silvana Paternostro, author of In the Land of God and Man: Confronting Our Sexual Culture, My Colombian War: A Journey Through the Country I Left Behind, and Solitude and Company.

“A fascinating look at the broken country that is Colombia.  Delgado-Kling’s riveting book incorporates historical research, interviews with former child soldiers, and haunting memories of her own family history of kidnapping and violence.”
Kate Hilton, author of The Hole in the Middle and Just Like Family.


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