In the city of Bogotá, Antonio Yammara reads an article about a hippo that had escaped from a derelict zoo once owned by legendary Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The article transports Antonio back to when the war between Escobar’s Medellín cartel and government forces played out violently in Colombia’s streets and in the skies above.
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.