The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

People of my generation do these things: we ask each other what our lives were like at the moment of those events – almost all of which occurred in the 1980s – which defined or diverted them before we knew what was happening to us.

Edition: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013, 298 pages.

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez is a Columbian novel, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean, and the story begins in 2009 in Bogotá and follows a young law lecturer Antonio Yammara, who becomes fascinated by an enigmatic ex-convict Ricardo Laverde, who he meets a local billiard hall. It is rumoured that Laverde was involved in the Columbian drug trade.

One day Antonio witnesses and also gets injured during a violent attack on his new friend, who is shot dead on a street corner in Bogotá. The attack causes Antonio to suffer from post-traumatic stress and he decides to conduct his own investigation into the life of Ricardo Laverde and his family that leads him back to the 1960s and the beginnings of the Columbian drug trade that soon trapped the whole country and a generation of people into a cycle of fear and violence.

To be honest, based on just the synopsis, I was expecting that the story will focus more on the drug smuggling operations, something in the vain of the TV series Narcos, but instead, the Columbian drug wars are only a backdrop to a story that explores the motives that lead decent people to get involved in the drug smuggling business and the high human cost of their participation in the drug trade.

It’s interesting how the title refers to various things within the story – airplanes, the fall of a drug empire, the estate of Pablo Escobar that falls into disrepair, bodies falling from being shot and the whole country that falls victim to fear and violence. The novel provides a great opportunity to get a sense of the atmosphere of Columbia in that time period, the fear that had seeped into the consciousness of a whole generation, and how it affected the lives of many families. How the actions of one person can create a ripple effect that affects a whole generation, even the people who weren’t directly involved in the drug trade.

The novel also explores how certain secrets or memories can damage individuals and change their lives, as well as how finding other people who have gone through similar experiences can have a healing effect.

It’s a very slow-paced, reflective book and I must admit that there were moments when my interest started to fade, but then I would come across a particularly profound and moving passage that would immediately grip me and make me want to continue on with the book.

Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control, and perhaps even 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 surprised to find their life has been moulded by distant events, by other people’s wills, with little or no participation from their own decisions.

Overall, this was a very interesting look into the history of Columbia and I’m definitely curious to read more by this author.