Spanish Lit Month: The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

There is a sound that I cannot or have never been able to identify: a sound that’s not human or is more than human, the sound of lives being extinguished but also the sound of material things breaking. It’s the sound of things falling from on high, an uninterrupted and somehow also eternal sound, a sound that didn’t ever end, that kept ringing in my head from that very afternoon and still shows no sign of wanting to leave it, that is forever suspended in my memory, hanging in it like a towel on a hook.
So many things fall. Our bodies. Objects from the sky like planes and the black boxes they contain. The dreams we have for our lives and with whom we’ll spend them. Once gone, will anyone take the time to look for us? Will anyone take the time to discover our stories, or stay with us once they are revealed?
Antonio Yammara’s life crossed with Ricardo Laverde’s while they were playing at a billiards club in Bogota. A friendship of sorts, or at least a relentless curiosity on the part of Antonio, compelled him to unravel the mysteries of Laverde’s life. Especially after Laverde is shot on the sidewalk one day, and Antonio is struck by a bullet alongside him. When Antonio recovers enough to walk, he pursues the clues which he hopes will reveal the reason why Laverde claims he was a pilot, why Laverde was crying while listening to a BASF cassette, why Laverde mourns a woman he calls Elena.
Parallel wih Laverde’s life is Antonio’s. They both have little girls. They both have lovely women. They both have lives filled with complicated choices and results not of their choosing. 
Their story takes us throughout Columbia, to the early 1970’s and back again. It contains reminders of the Vietnam War in the States, when Nixon was our President, and the Peace Corp was a viable alternative to fighting. It brings to the forefront Columbia’s drug traffic history by recalling Pablo Escobar and his famous property, Hacienda Napoles.
I read The Sound of Things Falling for Spanish Lit Month. I read it because it most recently won the Dublin IMPAC Award. But I will long remember it for the beautiful writing (“…her face was like a party that everyone had left”), the tender story it leaves behind, and the observations on life in general.
Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control, and perhaps even depends on it. I mean that mirage of dominion over our own life that allows us to feel like adults, for we associate maturity with autonomy, the sovereign right to determine what is going to happen to us next. Disillusion comes sooner or later, but it always comes, it doesn’t miss an appointment, it never has.
Vásquez was a finalist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in the UK with The Sound of Things Falling. His work has been translated into English, French and Polish. He won the Qwerty Prize for best book of fiction in the Spanish language and the Foundation Books & Letters Award for best book of fiction. He also received the 2011 Alfaguara Award and the Roger Caillois prize in 2012.