Saturday, November 2, 2013

Review: "The Sound of Things Falling" by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

I’ll admit that, even though I had a copy of his first translated book published here, The Informers, I did not really think much of Juan Gabriel Vasquez. Not in a bad way, mind you, he just never really crossed my radar screen, and that book was just one of many in my growing collection. It wasn’t until I read an article by Lev Grossman (second mention of him in a row for reviews) in Time Magazine about his newly translated book, The Sound of Things Falling. It compared it to Roberto Bolano, and like a silly fish, I took the bait and bought it without really having room for it, but this hunch really paid off. From its cool, understated cover and sleek design, I have been waiting to read it for a few months. I’m glad to say that it paid off greatly, since The Sound of Things Falling is easily one of the best books I have read this year, and definitely in my top five of new books in 2013. The Bolano comparison is appropriate, but not all that accurate, since Bolano, along with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, seems to be the writer all other Latin American writers are compared nowadays. A more fitting comparison would be one of Vasquez’s contemporaries across the pond in Aravind Adiga. Where he stripped away the whimsical, magical leanings popularized by writers like Salman Rushdie, in favor of brutal realism, Vasquez does a similar thing with this book about the drug empire of Pablo Escobar in the 1980’s Columbia. Gone are any hints of magical realism that are found in the books of his famous countryman Marquez, and in its place is a nightmarish world where anything that is held sacred to the people of Columbia can be taken away quickly and brutally, with no answers to be given. Antonio, a lawyer, recalls, after hearing about a hippo escaping the zoo once owned by the drug king, events of the late 1990’s, right after Escobar was killed. He is in love with a former student whom he has gotten pregnant, and befriends a local man named Ricardo who frequents a pool hall he enjoys going to. They develop a strong, yet superficial bond, until one day, after Ricardo’s strange requests leads them to a museum to use a tape recorder, a gunman on a motorcycle attempts to gun them down. Ricardo is killed, but Antonio is wounded, causing nerve damage that leaves him impotent (which leads to the most uncomfortable scene in the book). Feeling a mixture of anger and fear, he goes in search of answers, leading him to the beginnings of Ricardo’s story, and its sad ending. Like Bolano, Vasquez specializes in bringing forth mysteries that have no real answers, or ones that are too monstrous to lay eyes upon, and creating worlds that seem to exist outside of reality in the levels of violence and cruelty that occurs within its confines. But Vasquez is more grounded in reality and emotion. These are not the outlandish stories that I come away with from 2666 or The Savage Detectives. The victims in this story are real people, and that makes the lasting effects of this story that much more powerful and astonishing.
Rating: 5/5

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