|The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez.|
|Entrance to a billiard club |
near La Candelaria.
But the drug cartel violence is always there. For one thing, objects fall violently from the sky,
|Wreck of Avianca Flight 203, bombed by Pablo Escobar.|
Laverde, naturally, had smuggled cocaine, and just finished a long term in a U.S. prison. The friendship soon derails Antonio's life when, as the two men walk together thru La Candelaria, Laverde is shot to death and Antonio catches a 'bala perdida' in his abdomen.
The crime turns Antonio obsessive about Laverde's past, ruins Antonio's sex life and launches him on a path to an encounter with Laverde's daughter, who lives on a paradiasical tropical estate with unmistakeable parallels, in miniature, to Pablo Escobar's Hacienda Napoles.
|Plaza Rosario in La Candelaria. Ricardo Laverde was |
murdered near here and Antonio hung out in
the Cafe Pasaje.
My general plot summary probably makes the novel sound more exciting than it is. In fact, it's weighed down with layers of detail, which give the book atmosphere and meaning, but didn't move the plot forward, at least for me. (In contrast, a NY Times reviewer called it 'gripping.')
For example, do we really need Laverde's father's detailed justification of the actuary profession - even if that profession is related to mortality? Or the details of beekeeping? Or pages about a tragic 1938 air daredevil tragedy? Fortunately, Vasquez's writing is smooth, rich and evocative, so even his long explanations provide pleasant reading.
The novel is packed with drug war themes, mortality and levels of symbolism - perhaps too many. I
|A cyclist walks up Calle 14 in La Candelaria, |
where much of the novel's action takes place.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the subplot about the Peace Corps - and the volunteers' participation in the development of Colombia's marijuana economy, and the cocaine economy which it gave birth to. Is this the author's critique of U.S. policy? How much of this is history? It certainly would make sense, with all of those young, ambitious folks with contacts in the U.S. and a liking for 'Colombian Gold'. Vasquez's novels, including The Informants, about Germans in Colombia during World War II - contain lots of historical research, and I'd love to know whether any of the Peace Corps material is really history.
We learn in the book that just before his murder, Antonio had apparently gotten back into the drug business. But the fullness of the characters and realism of the story prevent this novel from turning into a morality tale about drugs leading to trouble.
The Peace Corps recently returned to Colombia, and according to news reports Colombia's marijuana cultivation is now booming again - altho there's no evidence of any connection between the two phenomena.
But coca leaf cultivation and cocaine-related violence are dropping, as are the murder and kidnapping rates.
Two decades after Colombia's cocaine boom, things are falling again - but this time in a mostly positive way.
The Sound of Things Falling, which has been translated into English and is for sale at Lerner and other bookstores,, won Spain's 2011 Alfaguara Prize and the 2013 Gregor von Rezzori award for the best foreign work translated into Italian.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours