After a game of billards with his friend Ricardo, Antonio Yammara walks out into the streets of Bogotá, Colombia, and gunfire rings out. Antonio is injured and Ricardo dies. The incident haunts Antonio for years until he decides to find out why Ricardo was killed.
The Sound of Things Falling (Riverhead) by Juan Gabriel Vásquez shows how the drug war affected the lives of the people in Colombia. Two of the characters recall how they learned of the fatal shootings of government officials and politicians just as Americans remember where they were when President John F. Kennedy or civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. were shot.
Antonio’s investigation into Ricardo’s death draws him closer to Ricardo’s family and his country’s history. Antonio even makes a visit to the abandoned home of drug lord Pablo Escobar, where a rhino still roams the land. Throughout the novel, he uses the imagery of flight — I won’t reveal anymore than that — to symbolize the characters’ emotions.
It’s these vivid details, along with some beautifully written passages, that make Sound a terrific read. His work reminded me of Afghan writer Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner, And The Mountains Echoed). Like Hosseini, Vásquez is able to convey his country’s trials on a personal basis with a compelling plot and simple, accessible language so I was drawn to the story without feeling lost or confused. (Translator Anne McLean deserves a great deal of credit.) Vasquez also eloquently conveys the tragedy and puzzle of life, as demonstrated by this passage:
“Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control, and perhaps evens depends on it. I mean that mirage of dominion over our own life that allows us to feel like adults, for we associate maturity with autonomy, the sovereign right to determine what is going to happen to us next. Disillusion comes sooner or later, but it always comes, it doesn’t miss an appointment, it never has. When it arrives we receive it without too much surprise, for no one who lives long enough can be surprises to find their biography has been molded by distant events, by other people’s will, with little or no participation from our own decisions. These long processes that end up running into our life — sometimes to give it the shove it needed, sometimes to blow to smithereens our most splendid plans — tend to be hidden like subterranean currents, like tiny shifts of tectonic plates, and when the earthquake finally comes we invoke the words we’ve learned to calm ourselves, accident, fluke, and sometimes fate.”
The Sound of Falling Things is an unforgettable read.
Source: I purchased this book.