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A novel so rich it is difficult to describe in anything less than superlatives, Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vasquez's The Sound of Things Falling mesmerizes with its ideas and captivates with its literary style, while also keeping a reader on the edge of the chair with its unusual plot, fully developed characters, dark themes, and repeating images. Set in Colombia, the novel opens in Bogota in 2009, with Antonio Yamarra, a law professor, reading a newspaper story about a male hippopotamus which had escaped from the untended zoo belonging to former drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was shot and killed in 1993. The hippo, living free on the huge Escobar property in the many years since Escobar's death, had eventually wreaked havoc in the surrounding countryside until it was shot and killed by a marksman. The fate of the hippo's mate and baby, which had escaped with him, were then unknown.

The newspaper's image of the slaughtered hippo brings back traumatic memories for Yamarra - real memories involving a former acquaintance, the late Ricardo Laverde, whom he had known for a few months in 1996, and more subtle images of a family destroyed and their possible connections to Colombia's drug history. It is these memories which develop into the novel asYammara tells about meeting Ricardo Laverde over the billiards table after work in 1996. Gradually, he begins to learn a little more about this man, recently released after twenty years in jail, eventually discovering that Laverde used to be a pilot. This motif of flight, both real and emotional, permeates the novel.

Antonio Yammara's relationship with Laverde is not benign. When Laverde is eventually shot, something the reader discovers in the early pages, Yammara is inadvertently involved, and he suffers physically and emotionally for several years in the aftermath. His suffering involves every aspect of his existence, including his relationship with his wife Aura and young daughter. Eventually, Yammara meets Laverde's daughter Maya and learns more about the parallel story of Laverde, his wife Elaine, and their own daughter during the time of Escobar's "reign." The time then flashes back to the 1970s, giving breadth to the themes and the philosophical ideas about life, death, and fate, which the author illustrates throughout.

Exciting as a story about the drug world and its effects on Colombia's history and on its people, the novel also gives Vasquez ample opportunity to develop his themes. "It's always somewhat dreadful," Yamarra explains, "when someone reveals to us the chain that has turned us into what we are; it's always disconcerting to discover, when it's another person who brings us the revelation, the slight or complete lack of control we have over our own experience." And when "the saddest thing that can happen to a person is to find that their memories are lies," and that the best conclusion that one can draw about the motivation of someone close to us is simply, "He must have done something," then the whole point of Vasquez's novel is as clear as "an object falling from the sky." WINNER of the IMPAC Dublin Award, 2014.
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on 13 February 2014
Antonio Yammara, a law lecturer at a university in Bogota, recalls the events of the mid-1990s, when Colombia was torn by cartels, corruption, killings of innocent people. In 1996, Antonio was almost 30, he had just graduated from university and began to teach Law. He lives modestly, occasionally visiting cafes and bars, and in a billiard club he accidentally meets Ricardo Laverde. He is a shady type, with murky past, who is said that he just got out of prison after 20 years – and you don’t get 20 years for a minor offense.

Word for word, and Ricardo and Antonio become close, though Ricardo doesn’t tell much about himself. He only says that he is “a pilot of things that need piloting” and that he has a wife, Elena Fritts, an American, whom he had not seen for 20 years. He is to meet her soon, when she arrives from California.

When the next time the narrator meets Ricardo, the pilot shows Antonio a tape and tells that he needs to hear it. Antonio leads the pilot to a salon , where Ricardo listens to the tape through headphones, and then cries. Ricardo suddenly runs out of the salon, Antonio tries to catch up with him and when catching up on the corner of the house suddenly assassins on passing motorbike shoot Ricardo and Antonio. Ricardo dies, Antonio survives blaming Ricardo for the fact that he drew Antonio into something.

Antonio can only wonder why someone attacked Ricardo, a pilot, released from prison. Recovering from injuries is extremely difficult for the narrator. He damaged some nerves, he lives on pain medication, walks with a cane, he had fits of panic or fear. Antonio sleeps poorly, has nightmares, he begins to fear for his fate and the fate of his family.

South American Vasquez comes from the new generation of writers from this continent. In place of magical realism comes just realism, and a writer always tries to be social conscientious. Time of fairy tales and romance has passed, they were replaced by the cartels, murders and destruction of life.

Vasquez wrote a book about how the drug trade by ricochet kills and destroys those who has nothing to do with it. The narrator until the end of the book is almost in the dark of why pilot Ricardo was killed, only guessing that most likely Ricardo again became embroiled in a cocaine trade. Short communication with the pilot leads to devastating consequences, and nothing can be done, it's like being hit by lightning.

Protagonist of the novel recalls his childhood with a bloody background: drug wars, assassinations, corruption at the state level. That is what drew Antonio to a complete stranger Maya, both victims of a bloody past of Colombia. Two wounded souls have found each other, just for one day and night, but one pain does not help to heal another pain.

The novel is about a man and written by a man, but the fate of women can be traced in it. Almost half of the book is written in the third person from the perspective of Elena, a fragile woman, ready to do good. But the cruelty of the world does not know the good, and the story of Elena, and together with her Maya’s, is a sad story of a failed dream.

Vasquez, with his writer's position as the nation's conscience, is not a dirty realist. His prose is filled with melancholic memories (in a perfect translation), and sublime metaphors. Symbolism in the book balances the grim reality. The novel begins with the story of the escape of a large hippo from the zoo. Animal caused damage to the city and county, and it was eventually killed:

“He’d escaped two years before from Pablo Escobar’s old zoo in the Magdalena Valley, and during that time of freedom had destroyed crops, invaded drinking troughs, terrified fishermen and even attacked the breeding bulls at a cattle ranch. The marksmen who caught up with him shot him once in the head and again in the heart (with .375-calibre bullets, since hippopotamus skin is thick); they posed with the dead body, the great dark wrinkled mass, a recently fallen meteorite; and there, in front of the first cameras and onlookers, beneath a ceiba tree that protected them from the harsh sun, they explained that the weight of the animal would prevent them from transporting him whole, and immediately began carving him up.”

In this story of a hippo is recklessness and cruelty of ones and helplessness of the others.

In The Sound of Things Falling really everything falls: planes, tears, dreams and life. And nothing can be done, we can only listen.

Vasquez’s novel is a bitter thing, but also a reminder that we should keep an eye on Latin American literature, it seems to offer a lot of masterpieces.
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on 1 July 2014
The Sound of Things Falling wasn't what I expected and I enjoyed it probably more for it. I bought the book primarily because it had won 100G Impac award so I knew it had to be good. I liked the mystery around the Ricardo character, but suspected his past - and the love story between Ricardo and the American character is thrilling. A very enjoyable read.
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on 16 November 2013
A haunting and fascinating novel, which stays with you even when you're not reading it. Depressing, melancholic, and yet highly enjoyable - not a great advert for Colombia though! Vasquez is a very exciting young novelist - his other novel, The Informers, is also highly recommended, and I look forward to his next offerings!
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on 14 October 2013
It's a disturbing novel; it shows the impact of outside events on an innocent person's life and the damage
done to society by uncontrolled and random violence.
The reader comes to share the narrator's obsession with the cause of his shooting and the life of Ricardo Laverde.
It's both compelling and chilling.
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on 28 November 2014
A fabulous story. I was wrapped in the narrative and transported to the vivid streets of Bogota and to the landscapes of rural Columbia. The author masters tension so brilliantly that it was impossible to put down the book. He walks us through last century's history and political upheavals of Columbia, gives us a taste of daily life in Bogota and takes us on a trip around his country to meet his people. Individuals seem to have no control over their lives. Events are incomprehensible. It is a fascinating story about people who meet by chance and whose fate become linked. Their paths cross by coincidence and their future suddenly becomes linked. Life is so unpredictable : why did things happened one way instead of the other? It is a personal journey of self-discovery.THE ISLAND GIRL
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on 4 October 2014
A most engaging novel set during the time of the drug cartels in Columbia. I thought the book started rather confusingly but then quite quickly the author began writing the story of dangerous times, living on the edge, cultural confusion and love lost. You have to shift yourself to Colombian life and culture but it is a rewarding journey. It's a book that draws you in and leaves you pleasantly satisfied by the end. It is curiously engaging and the characters are entirely believable. If anything it is an understated book.
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on 8 August 2014
Having visited Colombia several times in recent years, I found Vasquez to have captured the paradoxes of that astonishing, horrifying, magnificent and dreadful country and its people, in a way that combines true events with a compelling fictional narrative.

Recommended reading before or after visiting Colombia but perhaps not while on the plane.
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VINE VOICEon 18 September 2013
Like the brilliant TV series Breaking Bad, The Sound of Things Falling is about the complex human and moral impact of the war on drugs, but in this case we have an ably translated novel set in Columbian society in the second half of the twentieth century. Vasquez is an excellent writer, strong on plot and well drawn characters, who has obviously learned a lot from classic masters of suspense like Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene. Antonio is a lawyer who befriends an ex-con with a murky past and is plunged into a nightmare world that fragments his life. Highly recommended.
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on 1 July 2014
It took me some time get into this book. Its an ok story set out in the format of a memoir but I found myself asking more questions by the end - as to the life of the main character and what happens him eventually
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