Entrenched in the cold, subtropical highland climate of Bogota, Colombia and tangled in the lives of military aviators, lovers, and the nation’s citizens following Pablo Escobar’s downfall, “The Sound of Things Falling” written by Juan Gabriel Vasquez successfully contemplates love, fate, and death.
Vasquez poetically details a telling part of the life of Antonio, a professor of law at a university in Bogota. The main character attends a local hole-in-the-wall every afternoon to play billiards. Antonio, born into a generation that paid witness to the brutality of Escobar’s cocaine operation, political corruption, and terrorism seems cold, introverted, and not personable. Playing billiards every day, Antonio develops a slight friendship with an older gentleman, Lavarde. While Antonio played martyr to an extent to Pablo Escobar’s reign, Lavarde seems deeply troubled, neurotic, and impossible to read at first.
Antonio develops a love interest with one of his students, Aura, and after he accidentally impregnates her, the two consummate their love at the altar. The state of their relationship reflects Antonio’s relationship with Lavarde, and assumedly every other relationship he establishes with another person. He seems passive, unwilling, and distrustful of fully giving himself to that person. Interestingly enough, Vasquez time and time again ties this social trait to Antonio’s upbringing: watching Escobar, his money, and his henchmen dominate the social, political, and economic infrastructure of Colombia. This passive relationship with other people extends further into Antonio’s work as a lawyer; he seems alienated from the rest of the world, and it is through his eyes that we are able to see the rest of the world.
The friendship draws quickly to a close one ugly day as two motorcyclists open fire on Lavarde and Antonio as they take a walk. Lavarde dies and Antonio lives, but as a dead man. The nonsensical and traumatic drive-by becomes more infuriating as several other people had been murdered in similar, senseless ways during the same day. Stricken by post-traumatic stress, Antonio’s distrust grows, and his character seems to weaken and flounder. Amidst these chapters, Vasquez depicts Antonio as growing rapidly more distant, though he continues to blink a dim light somewhere off in the distance, establishing some sort of grounds for hope for the reader.
Antonio eventually does amble about and realizes that he will not find the meaning behind his mental and physical disabilities induced by the accident. Instead, Antonio is given the opportunity to meet the man who died in his own blood, right next to him on the side of a street in Bogota.
Powerfully written, Vasquez writes not only about his own culture and how violence has affected generations of people, but he also addresses the sound the disparities. Laced with bitter cold, almost as chilly as the temperatures of Bogota, “The Sound of Things Falling” seems to remark on both the aftermath of such events and the silent discourse that ensues afterwards.
The novel vocalizes a loud and memorable account of the life of a group of people, tortured but enabled by their mangled nation. The people, each one experiencing heart-wrenching tragedies, unveil a message of the novel of darkened fate, or perhaps ruthless, random fate. These individuals, situated in such varied corners of time and space in Colombia, are ultimately molded by external occurrences of murder, accidents, and the extensive drug network that worked the joints of Colombia for so many years.