Jean Gabriel Vázquez’s ‘The sound of Things Falling’ is a story about Colombia and about the inevitability of our actions and their consequences. The story is told by Antonio Yammara who, looking back, tells us about his life and his brief friendship with a self effacing older man Ricardo Laverde in the mid nineties, who, we understand, had spent some time in prison and whom he had grown to know superficially when they were both regulars in his local billiard hall in Bogota. Antonio, who had led a life avoiding responsibility and seducing his female students, was beginning to get his life together with Aura who had lived outside of Colombia as an adolescent and they were expecting a baby.
Then one day at Ricardo’s request Antonio arranges for him to be able to listen with headphones to a tape, Ricardo cries emotionally and as they then walk down the road, two men on a motorbike execute Laverde at close range and seriously injure Antonio.
Unable to come to terms with the event, Antonio’s relationship with his world around him slowly deteriorates as he becomes more and more detached from his wife and child over a two year period, then one day Antonio is contacted by Maya, Ricardo’s daughter, and so begins the unravelling of the mystery.
We learn that the tape was the black box recording of the last conversations, remaining calm but knowing they had made a mistake, of the flight crew of a tragic accident in which Ricardo lost his wife, as the recording advances we feel the inevitability of fate, we know they will crash, we can do nothing but we have to listen.
We then learn about Ricardo and his American wife Elen living in Colombia in the seventies, she a Peace Corps volunteer and he a light aircraft pilot, as they move to a much bigger and more secluded mansion in the countryside near Medellin and as Ricardo spends weeks at a time away before coming home with large Quantities of cash, then comes the parallel, we again feel this inevitability of fate, we know he will be caught and sent to prison, we can do nothing but we have to listen.
We learn of key events in Colombia’s violent drug related history and understand better why Antonio unlike Aura, having grown up in such violent times, should experience such a deep state of trauma.
After twenty years in prison, and after the death of Escobar why would anyone want to kill Ricardo for events of yesteryear, but of course! old habits die hard, a pilot is always a pilot and easy money….
Well worth the 2014 IMPAC award.
First published in Spanish as El ruido de las cosas al caer by Alfaguara in 2011
Translated into English by Anne McLean as The Sound of Things Falling and published by Bloomsbury publishing in 2012
Translated into French by Isabelle Gugnon as Le Bruit des Choses qui Tombent and published by Seuil in 2012