The intriguing title of this book comes from the final chapter of Juan Rodriquez’s memoir, which recounts his stint as a mercenary in the tumultuous Belgian Congo of the mid-1960s. Leading up to this hair-raising climax are tales of his youth in Madrid.
In 1947, his father dying of illness contracted in the Spanish Civil War, Rodriguez quit school at age 11 and worked dull, unskilled jobs to help support his family. What he lacked in formal education, however, he made up for in imagination: Rodriguez determined early on to see the world and to court adventure.
Broke, bored and eager to escape his hometown, he joined the Spanish Foreign Legion, signing on for three years in Morocco’s Spanish territory. When Morocco declared war on Spain to reclaim its land, the new recruit got his agonizing first taste of combat. Next, he joined the French Foreign Legion, taking him to Algeria, which was at war with France. He saw fierce fighting, but nothing that prepared him for the cannibalistic tribes he would face as a hired soldier in the jungles of the Congo. Nightmares would hound him for years afterward.
The book is written in three distinct parts: “The Spanish Legion,” “The Foreign Legion,” and “The Congo.” Each chronicles his adventures, both heroic and unsavory, during his late teens and 20s. He doesn’t stray much beyond describing the camps he served in and the battles he fought, giving the book a limited scope. (While in the Congo, for example, he worked for the government under the brutal, corrupt, Western-backed General Joseph Mobutu but never discusses the political situation.)
Rodriguez’s unembellished account of his experiences — finding fellow soldiers butchered and partially eaten, for instance — allows the horror to speak for itself. The reader is left to wonder whether this last adventure cured his craving for excitement. Despite this unfinished feel, his story makes for a compelling read.
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