Translated from the original Spanish by Anne McLean
2014 Winner – Watch Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s Acceptance Speech
The Sound of Things Falling is a consummate literary thriller that resonates long after the final page. Through a masterly command of layered time periods, spiralling mysteries and a noir palette, it reveals how intimate lives are overshadowed by history; how the past preys on the present; and how the fate of individuals as well as countries is moulded by distant, or covert, events.
The main setting in a drizzly and overcast Andean capital, Bogotá, evokes a darkly atmospheric Colombian landscape far from the sultry Caribbean coast made familiar through the fiction of Gabriel García Márquez. The narrator, Antonio Yammara, is a law lecturer tipped into a parallel underworld through a drive-by motorbike shooting that injures him and kills his billiard-hall acquaintance, the shadowy pilot Ricardo Laverde – who is just out after serving almost 20 years in jail. Through the lecturer’s compulsive investigation of the pilot’s criminal past, the novel deftly sketches the history of the drug trade in one South American country. Through vivid secondary characters, such as a sinister Chicago drop-out and US Peace Corps volunteer, it traces the tutelary, and often forgotten, role played in the incipient trade by a generation of North American adventurers in the 1960s and 70s – some of them Vietnam veterans.
Yet it is in the novel’s most intimate relationships that the human costs of this illegal trade are felt. The portrait of Yammara’s foundering marriage to the young Aura is painfully frank, rendered in language that is deliberately muted as he succumbs to post-traumatic stress. The desolate bond he forms with the pilot’s disturbed and reclusive daughter Maya, which is built on shared trauma, evokes an entire generation psychologically scarred by the terrorist bombings and targeted killings of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the drug cartels declared open war on the government.
Through superb use of metaphor, the novel evokes a world of precarious flight and desperate, last-ditch ambition, in which everything is falling; nothing is secure. Airliners drop out of the sky, marriages crash and burn, daredevil pilots make lethal miscalculations, and family men make flawed choices. Almost anything can be corrupted by the glittering promise of unimaginable wealth, and fate or fluke is the name we give to events beyond our control that lay waste to our soaring dreams. Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s tragic vision is marvellously served by Anne McLean’s supple and idiomatic translation.
About the Book
No sooner does he get to know Ricardo Laverde in a seedy billiard hall in Bogotá than Antonio Yammara realises that the ex-pilot has a secret. Antonio’s fascination with his new friend’s life grows until the day Ricardo receives a mysterious, unmarked cassette. Shortly afterwards, he is shot dead on a street corner. Yammara’s investigation into what happened leads back to the early 1960s, marijuana smuggling and a time before the cocaine trade trapped Colombia in a living nightmare.
About the Author
Juan Gabriel Vásquez was born in Bogotá in 1973. He studied Latin American literature at the Sorbonne between 1996 and 1998, and has translated works by E. M. Forster and Victor Hugo, among others, into Spanish. He was nominated as one of the Bogotá 39, South America’s most promising writers of the new generation. His previous books include The Informers, which was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and The Secret History of Costaguana, which won the Qwerty prize in Barcelona. His books have been published in fifteen languages worldwide. After sixteen years in France, Belgium and Spain, he now lives in Bogotá.
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.