Tag Archives: Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Book review: Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s “The Sound of Things Falling”

Sound of Things Falling 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.

juan-gabriel-vasquezMore about Juan Gabriel Vásquez:

Vásquez was born in Bogotá and has lived in France, Belgium and Spain. His first two books were The Informers and The Secret History of Costaguana.

Source: I purchased this book.

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In the news: August brings new releases from Vásquez, Engel and Marias

It’s August and it’s still hot. Here are some books to help keep your cool:

Sound of Things Falling Aug. 1: In the novel The Sound of Things Falling, Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez explores the effects of the drug war in his native country.

Aug. 6: A Colombian-American college student finds romance in the world’s most romantic city in Patricia Engel’s It’s Not Love It’s Just Paris.

The Infatuations Aug. 13: In Spanish novelist Javier MariasThe Infatuations, a woman is intrigued by a couple she sees at her local café – and then the man is murdered.

Aug. 29: Tim Z. Hernandez imagines the life of Bea Franco, the farmworker who inspired a character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, in Mañana Means Heaven.

Events:

• The Latino Comics Expo , featuring Lalo Alcaraz and Mario Hernandez, will take place Aug. 17-18 in Long Beach, Calif.

Writing conferences:

Reyna Grande will be the keynote speaker at the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference Oct. 5 at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y. The event will include panelists and one-on-one sessions with agents and editors.

Writing contests:

• Sept. 1 is the deadline for Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Award, given to an unpublished children’s book written by a writer of color.

Other features:

LoteriaMario Alberto Zambrano talked about his novel, Lotería, to NPR.

Alfredo Corchado discussed his book Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness, to NPR’s Fresh Air and PBS NewsHour.

Nearer HomeJoy Castro talked about her newest book, Nearer Home, to “Words on a Wire.”

• The life of The Alchemist author Paulo Coehlo is being made into a movie, according to the Huffington Post.

Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is now available on e-readers, according to the Los Angeles Times. Francisco Goldman read Bolaño’s 2008 short story, “Clara,” on The New Yorker magazine’s fiction podcast.

Junot Díaz made annotations on portions of his award-winning book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for the Poetry Genius website, according to MediaBistro.

• The federal courts have ordered the Tucson, Ariz., school district to make Mexican-American Studies available in its classrooms, reports NPR.

• Each major publishing house now has a Latino author on its roster, reports Latinzine.

• Graphic novels are becoming more popular in Colombia thanks to a lift in tax restrictions, according to Publishing Perspectives. One of the titles is a biography of Gabriel Gárcia Márquez.

Also this month:

• Nobel Prize winner Jacinto Benavente y Martinez was born Aug. 12. The Hispanic Reader turns two years old on Aug. 16.  Jorge Luis Borges, Paulo Coelho and Oscar Hijuelos celebrate birthdays on Aug. 24.

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In the news

New releases: Fantasy mega-bestseller Diana Gabaldon, who is of Mexican-American and English descent, released her latest book, The Scottish Prisoner, on Tuesday.  Entertainment Weekly has a great interview in which she lists her favorite and not-so-favorite books. Also new on the bookshelves is Something Urgent I Have to Say to You: The Life and Works of William Carlos Williams, a biography of the poet, who was half-Puerto Rican, by Herbert Leibowitz.

Year in Review: Two of The Hispanic Reader’s favorite books of the year, Héctor Tobar’s The Barbarian Nurseries and Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name, were named to The New York Times’s 100 Notable Books of 2011. For its Best of 2011 list, Kirkus Reviews picked The Secret History of Costaguana by Columbian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez and We the Animals by Justin Torres. (Its teen list includes by If I Could Fly by Judith Ortiz Cofer and Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Martinez McCall.) Animals also made Amazon.com’s Best of 2011 Top Twenty list. Lorraine Lopez’s The Realm of Hungry Spirits was selected for Bookpage’s best list.

Law: Nobel Laurete Gabriel García Márquez won a lawsuit in which a Colombian man claimed that a character in Márquez’s 1984 book Chronicle of a Death Foretold was based on him, according to The Guardian.

Random: President Obama purchased Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, among other books, while holiday shopping, ABC News reported.

Awards: Julia Alvarez, pictured at right, recently wrote about her acceptance of the Vermont Governor’sAward for Excellence in the Arts, which she received in November. The Cervantes Prize, considered the most prestigious Spanish language literary award, was given to Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, 97.

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