A gripping novel, absorbing right to the end, The Sound of Things Falling concerns a young professor of jurisprudence named Antonio who plays billiards every afternoon in Bogotá to unwind after delivering his lecture. In the billiard hall, he befriends a frail older man, Laverde, who, it is rumored, has only recently been released from prison. Standing out in the street, they’re shot at by two men on a passing motorbike. Laverde is killed and Antonio severely wounded … The Sound of Things Falling may be a page turner, but it’s also a deep meditation on fate and death. Even in translation, the superb quality of Vásquez’s prose is evident, captured in Anne McLean’s idiomatic English version. All the novel’s characters are well imagined, original and rounded. Bogotá and the Colombian countryside are beautifully if grimly described.
Mr. Vásquez’s novel is a kind of languid existential noir, one that may put you in mind of Paul Auster. Hot things are evoked in cool prose. Everything is, in Miles Davis’s terms, kind of blue … Mr. Vásquez is an estimable writer. His prose, in this translation by Anne McLean, is literate and dignified. Fetching images float past. We read that ‘a friend’s house smelled of headache.’ And that Elaine has never slept with anyone who ‘didn’t have orgasms in English’ … The plot can seem overdetermined. I turned the pages with interest — Mr. Vásquez is a gifted writer — but without special eagerness. He sometimes seems more interested in poetic generalities than in squirming people.
Juan Gabriel Vásquez's deeply affecting and closely observed new novel takes up the psychic aftermath of that era [of the drug war], as residents of Colombia's capital, Bogota, struggle to make sense of the disorder and dysfunction that's enveloped their daily lives … It begins with the classic detached and dreamlike tone of the Latin American short story masters Borges and Cortázar. Our narrator is Antonio Yammara, a law professor who haunts the billiard clubs in central Bogota… Yammara is a young and handsome member of the Latin American intelligentsia, and his life has been defined by the pleasures available to such men, including the occasional affair with his students. But when he witnesses the killing of Laverde — and becomes a victim of gunplay himself — he is transported into a world of dread and emotional turmoil, a journey that Vásquez describes with appropriately Kafkaesque overtones.
Colombia. The drug trade. Multiple plane crashes, drive-by shootings, Peace Corps hippies who peddle drugs, and an actual hippo on the loose. Despite all of that, there's actually not much plot to this novel. This is more of a metaphysical detective story where cause and effect can be difficult to pin down — a book where the events that matter most occur inside the characters … The Sound of Things Falling is that unique detective story where we're more interested in the narrator's inner life than the mystery surrounding him. Vasquez has taken the psychological novel and made it political. Turned mystery fiction into contemporary history.
While Colombia’s recent drug wars do provide the grim backdrop to Vásquez’s new novel, The Sound of Things Falling, his bigger questions are about forgiveness and memory, about randomness, fate, and about the individual’s relationship to history … Vásquez shows how the personal is linked to the political: ‘Maya Laverde was born in the Palermo Clinic in Bogotá in July 1971, more or less at the same time President Nixon used the words War on Drugs for the first time in a public speech.’ Nor is he coy in implying that drugs traffic in Colombia was directly linked to US Peace Corps volunteers sent overseas. The story is compelling but through Vásquez’s vivid prose (rendered brilliantly into English by the award-winning translator Anne McLean) it also becomes haunting.
[The Sound of Things Falling] confirms Vásquez's mastery of a sophisticated form of Latin American literary noir that leads the reader through Borgesian labyrinths. In navigating them, with guiding lights ranging from Conrad to Le Carré, his fiction also reveals the role of outsiders in a violent history … Although characters make flawed choices, the novel also hints at how little control they have, their lives ‘moulded by distant events, by other people's wills.’ Vásquez offers no polemic. Yet as debates on the legalisation of drugs remain weighted towards suffering in consumer countries, this novel affords a rare understanding of the inhuman costs on the other side.
Is there any way to measure a fear so overwhelming that it becomes a part of national culture? That seems to be the question troubling Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez in The Sound of Things Falling … Vásquez’s narrative is taut and somber and depicts a world forever in the shadows. The Bogotá he shows us is a ‘city of sly, shrewd people.’ When Elaine first writes home to her grandparents in the United States to share her initial impressions (‘Nobody warned me Bogotá was going to be like this’), there are already hints of disaster ahead … There can be no understanding without looking back. But at the same time, the act of remembering brings a paralysis that shuts out the future.
If I tell you that Juan Gabriel Vasquez's exquisite novel The Sound of Things Falling is about the drug trade in Colombia, a few stock images might arise in your mind...but Vasquez was born in Colombia in 1973 — the same year that President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration — and he has a different story for us altogether … His whole generation suffers from PTSD. Vasquez documents this trauma with the precision of a pathologist. The panic attacks, the impotence, the decade spent indoors because ‘houses of friends, of friends of friends, distant acquaintances — any house was better than a public place.’ Fear is the novel's great, hypnotic subject.
It is the human side of Colombia’s story that Vasquez wants to tell, not the geopolitical or tactical struggles, and he tells it through the dark and wounded memories of Antonio Yammara, a young lawyer living in Bogota … This is a novel about the after-echoes of a life lived during wartime — a war without a transcendent, inspiring, justifying ideology. But the descendants, in this case, are not the wildly and brashly cinematic Tony Montanas...The characters in The Sound of Things Falling are the forgettable extras, the trembling, unnamed figures in the background of the movie, silenced and frozen by casual savageries, still choking, even after the passage of years, on an inarticulate, wormy grief. And it is those figures that Vasquez brings to life, those stories that his book reveals – and honors.
In The Sound of Things Falling, Juan Gabriel Vásquez captures magnificently the feel of Bogotá — its neighborhoods and rhythms, its sounds and smells and the terror of its inhabitants during the years of drug violence … The Sound of Things Falling is not really the story of one man and his involvement with the cartels. Instead, it is an exploration of how the cartels impacted thousands of people of Laverde’s generation who in one way or another were drawn into the trafficking business — people like Laverde, who were not hardened criminals but saw drugs as a product they were supplying to an eager market, and Elaine, a do-gooder caught up in anti-Vietnam war protests and anti-establishment rhetoric. As Yammara remarks, these people were not innocent; they were innocents, naïve youngsters who never examined the moral implications or possible consequences of their actions.
This book is an exploration of the ways in which stories profoundly impact lives … Together they lose themselves in stories of Laverde’s childhood; of Maya’s American mother, Elaine Fritts; and of Elaine and Laverde’s love affair. Vasquez allows the story to become Elaine’s, and as the puzzle of Laverde is pieced together, Yammara comes to realize just how thoroughly the stories of these other people are part of his own.