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on 3 June 2017
Great read. Slightly complicated. Good insight into drug dealers.
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on 26 November 2013
I found this a beautifully written book, both exciting and full of a depth of revelation about life in general, and life in particular in Colombia during the times of brutality that accompanied the drug wars and the times of Pablo Escobar.
(There are interesting asides also about the role of North Americans - some of them Peace Corps Volunteers - in the nurturing of the early drug trade.)

The protagonist, Antonio, having befriended a mysterious ex-prisoner, Ricardo, is seriously wounded by accident in a ride-by shooting. This event haunts him physically and emotionally and much of the book involves the laying bare of the past in order to try to understand what happened.
So there are the elements of unraveling a mystery, but this is much more than a "mystery" novel. It deals with - amongst other things - the fragility of life and the way that violence, or its aftermath years later, can reach into the safest corners of friendship and love in a pernicious way.
There is not a neat tying up of the ends at the conclusion of the book, but that only makes the predicament of Antonio more real; there are no happy endings; we are not in control of our lives; we cannot know what will happen next.
The translation of this book is excellent. There is none of the anachronistic slang that ruins so many translations. In fact you forget it is a translation because it flows so well.
It is fine to discover an intriguing new author, and I look forward to reading other books by Vasquez - "The Informers" next perhaps.
Novels by South American and Mexican writers are so often powerful, and give a jolt to sometimes jaded European literary expectations. This one is no exception.
I finished it recalling Garcia Marquez' phrase about "The solitude of Latin America" and eager to discover more books as good as "The Sound of Things Falling."
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 January 2014
'The Sound of Things Falling' is narrated by Antonio, a law professor whose life is changed dramatically when he is seriously injured in a street shooting that leaves Ricardo, an acquaintance of his, dead. Some years later, Antonio tries to piece together the mysteries surrounding Ricardo and the events leading up to his death. Was his shooting related to the cassette tape that brought him to tears just minutes before he was killed? So far, so promising-sounding-thriller. There's a nice mystery around the tape and Ricardo himself; we get a few pieces of tantalising information early on that keep us reading through to the denouement. There are also some interesting bits of Colombian history mixed in, particularly around the rise of drug smuggling. Antonio is scarred by the violent past of his city whilst he was growing up, and makes dark references throughout to that, but there is never much explanation of what the conflict was about or specifically how it affected residents of Bogota, which makes it harder for readers unfamiliar with the country's history to really connect with this aspect of the story.

If my synopsis above is rather hard to pin down, that's because it's not an easy story to summarise. It's not the thriller/crime type novel the blurb might suggest. I found it rather disjointed. The central mystery around Ricardo's past isn't quite a strong enough theme to keep the whole thing together, and the pacing varies from adequate to slow. Antonio isn't a particularly easy character to like - I didn't entirely dislike him, but some of his behaviour isn't endearing and in a story where he is the main unifying factor it would make it more readable if he was more charismatic. In some ways I found him a bit bland and difficult to fully understand. He didn't really stand out to me as a strong character in his own right - the murdered Ricardo has more presence. The references to the difficult times he'd had during the conflict have the potential to give him more depth, but because they never go beyond references, this ends up feeling like another important aspect of the character that we haven't really seen or understood.

There are some very strong sections within the narrative, for example when Antonio finally hears the mystery tape, and the narration of the military display attended by Ricardo's father. These are really well written. The writing style in the rest of the book is all right, but it all just moves too slowly for me. I found the eventual conclusion of the novel unsatisfying, and I was annoyed with how things developed with Ricardo in the latter part of the book - I can't really say more without spoiling it, but I felt that the route the author took was clichéd, unnecessary and undermined the power of the story to be told.

I couldn't really find this an enjoyable book, although the writing is generally good and in parts shows flashes of brilliance. It's rather like a necklace with a few very beautiful pearls tied together with a lot grubby string in between. I didn't rush to read it and I didn't feel any sorrow when I finished. One thing I would warn readers about is not, under any circumstances, to read this on an aeroplane or before a flight. There is a strong theme of plane crashes, including a chilling depiction of one, and so unless you have nerves of steel, leave this at home when you fly. The novel would be most enjoyed by people who like slower paced, thoughtful books. Lovers of crime fiction and thrillers should be aware that this book doesn't really fall into that genre. Overall I'm ambivalent about the story although it isn't written badly, and it's hard to know who to recommend it to - other than advising frequent fliers to steer clear.
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on 14 June 2014
“The Sound Of Things Falling”
Juan Gabriel Vasquez

This thought provoking novel by Juan Gabriel Vasquez begins with young lawyer Antonio Yammara in sombre mood. Having just followed the story of a recently destroyed Hippopotamus which had escaped from the Zoo in the Magdalena Valley,

“The persecution of innocent creatures by a heartless system”

Antonio ‘s desperate need to know the truth from his past misfortune is rekindled. Many years have passed since he first befriended Ricardo Laverde. An unlikely friendship ensued and Antonio seeks consolation in the telling of the story of the life of this man and in so doing casts a present light on the darkness of his Columbian past…..He recalls of their friendship;

“The brevity of our acquaintance and the longevity of it’s consequences”

Antonio’s friendship with Ricardo begins in an old billiard hall where the two drifting souls fall easily into each other’s company. Ricardo reveals very little of his life and work to Antonio but the common knowledge on the street is that Ricardo has spent twenty years in jail; the crimes for which no one has been able to ascertain.

Aura Rodriguez becomes romantically involved with Antonio and he is intrigued by her lack of contamination from the past. She did not live in Bogotá during the terrible drug crime driven era. She laughs fearlessly and openly and brings warmth and joy and then a child into the young lawyer’s life.

Ricardo invites Antonio into his humble abode one night after a heavy bout of drinking and Antonio declines. He is not quite sure why he does this and wonders there after could things have turned out differently;

“There is no more disastrous mania, no more dangerous whim, than the speculation over roads not taken”

On the day of his death; Ricardo has been listening to a tape recently handed to him. Antonio sits nearby watching his friend disintegrate in front of his eyes as he himself listens to one of his favoured poets; he wonders what could have reduced this outwardly hardened man to a tsunami flood of tears.

Antonio never gets the chance to ask his friend the reason for his turmoil. Ricardo removes the headphones and rushes outside. Then it happens…..

Ricardo is gone. Antonio survives with his sadness and his fear.

Miraculously the bullet missed his vital organs. He is deeply traumatised. Unable to grasp the world around him and then he begins:

“Seeing the gravity of my own situation in the tattered expressions of those around me”

Following many months of medical care and support from various doctors and therapists; Antonio is still struggling to function normally and live a decent life. His domestic life crumbles he finds himself returning to the last known abode of his old friend and it is here in the kitchen of the landlady he hears the contents of the tape.

He receives a message from a woman called Maya, he leaves to pursue the answers to the questions he needs to know. Aura is losing her ability to tolerate Antonio’s constant morbid reflection of the past.

Meeting with Maya in her remote home where she dutifully attends to her beloved bees, Antonio awaits the revelations from the wicker box Maya produces containing the truth about Ricardo’s mysterious past, and then his capture:

“Lying in a puddle with a broken ankle, his hands black with dirt, his clothes torn and covered in Pine gum and his face disfigured by sadness”

Maya and Antonio have both been irrevocably damaged by Ricardo’s life. They both find comfort and solace together during their few days spent reminiscing. Each understanding perfectly the others desperate need to grieve for a generation raised in fear, and deceit, a generation that witnessed the corruption and the callous crimes carried out as the drug demons demonstrated to all the citizens of Bogotá and beyond their ruthlessness and their willingness to protect their business at any cost.

Maya tells Antonio the story of her parents and how her mother happened to be a passenger on that ill fated plane. She explains how she, as a child thought her father had died in a plane crash somewhere in the vast ocean. Sleeping alone that night is not an option for either of them. They have both endured;

“What we call experience is not the inventory of our pains, but rather the learned sympathy towards the pain of others”

Some people will stop at nothing to keep a secret ‘secret.’ Secret locations must be kept secret. Human error must sometimes be kept secret for the greater good. There are times when a secret kept is done so for the right reasons or at least for what the protectors of this secret believe to be right at the time.

I enjoyed reading this book and I am very glad I was given the opportunity by Juan Gabriel Vasquez to learn of certain secrets that I would otherwise never have known. The author’s true passion and belief in the need to expose a past less lovely is demonstrated clearly in his writing of this novel. The reader is gifted with such wonderful imagery and the climate, terrain and vegetation is vivid throughout the book. Somehow Juan Gabriel has managed to make the scars of his past very eloquent indeed!
I would score this book 9 out of a possible 10.

Reviewed with honesty by The Mother Booker June 2014
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on 15 June 2013
Set during and after the days of the all powerful Columbian drug cartels, this novel works at so many different levels. It has a compelling mystery at the heart of it . It explores the pressures Antonio faces in trying to cope with his life paralysing trauma (he was the inadvertent victim of a drive by shooting, directed at an enigmatic acquaintance, Ricardo Laverde). His search for answers leads to his discovering the story behind Laverde, meeting Laverde's daughter and destroying his own marriage.
The theme of things falling is ever present - planes falling out of the sky, drug warlords' downfalls, the corruption of peace corp workers' ideals, "good" families descending into penury, etc.. However, Vasquez writes with such an assured, light touch that nothing is laboured. He conjures up many powerful images - not the least of which are those of Pablo Escobar's personal zoo disintegrating and encounters with hippos and rhinos. A beautifully written, entertaining and thought-provoking read.
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on 7 February 2013
I was captivated by this beautifully written and flowing novel which managed to niggle away at me when i wasn't reading it and has left me with a sad feeling of loss. The media critics are spot on with their positive reviews. And isn't it great when a book opens the world up - I don't believe I'd ever particularly thought anything about Columbia or Escobar or Bogota before this but out of curiosity I have been looking them up.
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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 27 September 2014
This is a gripping novel, very absorbing from start to finish. This is a page turner that describes Bogota and the Colombian life in a well-constructed plot that neatly and carefully meshed the country’s violent past with present elements. This beautifully written story explores the aftermath of the toxic effects of the drugs trade.

“The Sound of Things Falling” is the story of Antonio, a young professor in Bogota, who loves to unwind playing billiard at the end of his day’s work. There he befriends Laverde, an older man recently released from prison. One day standing on the street the two gets shot, Laverde is killed and Antonio severely wounded. From there on, the story focusses in the bewilderment and fear of a society corrupted who has been taken over by force. This story takes us on a powerful visual journey through lush mountain landscapes and the bustle of city streets. There are lot of emotions but does not become heavy-handed. The style is fluid, the pacing is steady, and the descriptive passages are stunning and very intense. The characters are well-rounded and their memories resonate across this powerful and profound story. I love this book everything shines: the characters, the scenes, the dialogue, the details and the gritty reality that has its own persuasive magic.

This book is totally captivating and one I enjoyed immensely
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on 31 January 2014
What a great read. Vásquez describes the traumatic impact of Columbia’s violent 80’s and 90’s drug trafficking on kids growing up at that time. The story takes one of those kids, now an ordinary thirty-something lawyer who has never touched drugs in his life, yet finds his world destroyed because others pay top dollar for it. Written so effortlessly, it’s like sitting at a dinner table hearing Vasquez tell the story first hand. He writes in an unpretentious, chatty way without coming across as casual or indifferent.
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on 17 January 2014
The plot of the story could be related in a single sentence. However the the book is really an expose of peoples' behaviour, living on the edge of the drugs community in Colombia. I found it a strange mixture; at times quite gripping and at other times tedious. The author can take an awfully long time to make a point.
The book is well written, but perhaps it is just not my kind of story.
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