Sound of Things Falling (Vasquez)

The Sound of Things Falling
Juan Gabriel Vasquez, 2011; Anne McClean, trans., 2013
Penguin Group USA
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781594487484

From a global literary star comes a prize-winning tour de force – an intimate portrayal of the drug wars in Colombia.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez has been hailed not only as one of South America’s greatest literary stars, but also as one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation. In this gorgeously wrought, award-winning novel, Vasquez confronts the history of his home country, Colombia.

In the city of Bogota, 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.

Back then, Antonio witnessed a friend’s murder, an event that haunts him still. As he investigates, he discovers the many ways in which his own life and his friend’s family have been shaped by his country’s recent violent past. His journey leads him all the way back to the 1960s and a world on the brink of change: a time before narco-trafficking trapped a whole generation in a living nightmare.
Vasquez is “one of the most original new voices of Latin American literature,” according to Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, and The Sound of Things Falling is his most personal, most contemporary novel to date, a masterpiece that takes his writing—and will take his literary star—even higher. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Bogota, Columbia
Education—J.D., University of Rosario; Ph.D.,
   Sorbonne University
Awards—Premio Alfaguara de Novela; Roger
   Caillois Award (France)
Currently—lives in Bogota

Juan Gabriel Vasquez is a Colombian writer and the author, most recently, of The Sound of Things Falling.

Vasquez studied Law in his native city, at the University of Rosario in Bogota, and after graduating left to France, where he lived in París from 1996 to 1999. There, at the Sorbonne, he received a doctorate in Latin American Literature. Later he moved to a small town in the Ardennes in Belgium. After living there for a year, he moved to Barcelona, where he resided until 2012. Today he lives in Bogota.

Vasquez is the author of three "official" novels — The Informers (2004), The Secret History of Costaguana, (2007) and The Sound of Things Falling (2011; U.S. transl, 2013). He wrote two others, which he prefers to ignore, when he was 23 and 25 years old: "I would like to leave this part of my past forgotten. I have this right," he has said.

Even though he recognizes a debt to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, his work is a reaction to magical realism, saying this with regard to The Secret History of Costaguana:

I want to forget this absurd rhetoric of Latin America as a magical or marvellous continent. In my novel there is a disproportionate reality, but that which is disproportionate in it is the violence and cruelty of our history and of our politics.... I can say that reading One Hundred my adolesence contributed much to my vocation, but I believe that all of the side of magical realism is the least interesting part of this novel.... Like all grand novels, One Hundred Years of Solitude requires us to reinvent the truth. I believe that this reinvention is to make us lose ourselves in the magical realism. And what I have tried to make in my novel is to recount the 19th Century Colombian story in a radically distinct key and I fear to oppose what Colombians have read until now.

Vasquez also writes essays and is a weekly columnist in the Colombian newspaper, El Espectador.  His stories have appeared in anthologies in different countries and his novels have been translated to various languages. Furthermore, he himself has translated works of John Hersey, Victor Hugo, and E. M. Forster, among others. He was part of the jury of 81 Latin American and Spanish writers and critics who in 2007 elected for the Colombian review, Semana, the best 100 books in the Castilian language in the last 25 years. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/18/1213.)

Book Reviews
Juan Gabriel Vasquez's brilliant new novel rejects the vivid colors and mythical transformations of [Garcia Marquez's] Caribbean masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, in favor of the cold, bitter poetry of Bogota and the hushed intensity of young married love…A gripping novel, absorbing right to the end…The Sound of Things Falling...[is] also a deep meditation on fate and death. Even in translation, the superb quality of Vasquez's prose is evident, captured in Anne McLean's idiomatic English version. All the novel's characters are well imagined, original and rounded. Bogota and the Colombian countryside are beautifully if grimly described.
Edmund White - New York Times Book Reivew

Like Bolano, [Vasquez] is a master stylist and a virtuoso of patient pacing and intricate structure, and he uses the novel for much the same purpose that Bolaño did: to map the deep, cascading damage done to our world by greed and violence and to concede that even love can’t repair it.
Lev Grossman - Time

Vasquez creates characters whose memories resonate powerfully across an ingeniously interlocking structure.... Vasquez creates a compelling literary work—one where an engaging narrative envelops poignant memories of a fraught historical period
New Republic

Quietly elegant… Vasquez is a resourceful storyteller. Scenes and dialogue shine with well-chosen details. His theme echoes compellingly through family parallels, ill-fated flights and even a recurring hippo motif. He shrugs off the long shadow of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with a gritty realism that has its own persuasive magic.
Bloomberg News

If you only read one book this month...

(Starred review.) [T]his book is an exploration of the ways in which stories profoundly impact lives.... Yammara befriends enigmatic stranger Ricardo Laverde. One night, assassins on motorbikes open fire on the two, killing Laverde and seriously wounding Yammara.... Yammara eventually finds Laverde’s daughter....Together they lose themselves in stories of Laverde’s childhood....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.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) In this latest from Vasquez, law professor Antonio Yammara recalls befriending retired pilot and former convict Ricardo Laverde, who is later killed in a shooting in which Yammara is seriously wounded. The murder propels an extensive inquiry into Laverde's background.... Only near the very end do we discover Laverde's involvement in one of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's drug cartels. Yet Vasquez does not emphasize the drug trafficking, instead focusing on poor choices and the role of memory in the retelling of events: "reality [is] adjusted to the memory we have of it." Verdict:... [a] genuine and magnificently written examination of memory's persistence.... —Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH
Library Journal

An odd coincidence leads Antonio Yammara, a law professor and narrator of this novel...deep into the mystery of personality, both his own and especially that of Ricardo Laverde, a casual acquaintance of Yammara before he was gunned down on the streets of Bogota.... Yammara is... intrigued by Laverde's murder and wants to find out the mystery behind his life. His curiosity leads him circuitously to Laverde's relationship with Elena, his American wife [and] Maya Fritts, Laverde's daughter by Elena, who fills in some of the gaps in Yammara's knowledge.... [This] ambiguous borderland where things don't quite come into coherent focus is where most of the characters remain.
Kirkus Reviews

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