More Terrible Than Death is a gripping work that maps the dramatic new relationship between the United States and Colombia in human terms, using portraits of the Colombians and Americans involved, the author's experiences in Colombia as a writer and human rights investigator and an insider's analysis of the political realities that shape the expanding war on drugs and the growing U.S. military presence there. Looking at the war from the ground up, interviewing and profiling human rights activists, guerrillas, and paramilitaries to explain how it has changed their lives, Robin Kirk gives depth and meaning to the headlines that leave unexplained the intimate dimension of the U.S./Colombian relationship.
Mapping the destructive effects of Colombia's drug war from the ground up, Human Rights Watch researcher Kirk (The Monkey's Paw: New Chronicles from Peru) personalizes the devastation created by the violence among the paramilitary, the guerillas and the drug cartels. The result is a very readable and heart-wrenching narrative blending interviews, personal experiences and observations about the violence that has defined and destroyed Colombia for decades. Unfortunately, the book's insider perspective is both its greatest asset and its greatest failing, as the account centers more on an individual American's experience than on America's war in Colombia. Although Kirk is adept at explaining complicated internal problems within Colombia and detailing the general misery and bloodshed there, her personal anecdotes and tenuously related observations do little to advance the book and too often get in the way of the powerful accounts she is trying to present. The key to the drug war the connection between the United States and Colombia gets less than its due, as the majority of the narrative details internal problems in Colombia having little to do with the U.S or, at times, with drugs. Given Kirk's experience in the region and obvious investigative talent, it is disappointing that she doesn't provide an in-depth analysis of the role the U.S. has played in the region, why Colombia's plight should matter to Americans, and prospects for the country in the future.