The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Translated by Anne McLean
Riverhead Books, August 2013
Originally published as El ruido de las cosas al caer, 2011
In my attempt to branch out from my regular crime fiction reading, I picked up The Sound of Things Falling, which is, in a way about crime as well. I also chose it because the only books from Colombia I’ve read are by Gabriel García Márquez and I wanted something more contemporary than his books. It was quite well written and well-translated– meaning that I didn’t notice anything clunky in the translation. I’m glad I got out of my crime fiction reading for a bit during this heavy reading season: snowy winters make for lots of reading.
The Sound of Things Falling is the story of Antonio Yammara, a young law professor in Bogotá who remembers time when he met and befriended a mysterious older man at a pool hall, Ricardo Laverde. At the end of the first section of the book, Laverde is murdered and Yammara gravely wounded, and the rest of the book is Yammara trying to recover from the trauma and find out more about Laverde. It’s a story about Colombia during the 1980’s during the drug wars, and that becomes more and more explicit as the story progresses.
Yammara is a difficult protagonist to understand because he avoids dealing directly with his shooting for a good chunk of the novel, and that lack of dealing has a profound effect on his beloved Aura. He’s fleshing out the memory of someone he did not know well, going back a few generations through news clippings, letters and conversations. The atmosphere of a young country with a hugely violent drug war going on in the 1980s is very present even though it’s not explicit in the first half of the novel.
It’s a book stuck in its head: Yamarra is a law professor who deals with the legal implications of fictional characters mostly, it seems, instead of being grounded in casebooks. I understand why he retreats there after surviving not only Bogotá in the 1980s but also his shooting in the mid-1990s. The sadness of the violence and how it affected Laverde, Yammara, and their families is the true center of the novel.
Again, I’m glad I read this book in order to get out of my current crime reading rut, and I’m interested in reading his previous novel, The Informers, which deals with Colombia’s blacklists of ex-Germans during World War II.
I borrowed my copy from the library.