Sunday, September 22, 2013

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

Antonio Yammara was a young law professor in Colombia during the violent days in which Pablo Escobar ruled and frightened his country. He enjoys speaking about the law to his students, even in such a lawless country, and is enjoying a romantic relationship with one of them.

One day he has a chance encounter with Ricardo Laverde, a mysterious ex-convict, at a billiards club. The two begin to form a casual friendship, although Antonio has more questions about Laverde than he is willing to ask. And then one day, their lives become intertwined indelibly, as Laverde is murdered in a drive-by shooting and Antonio is wounded.

A few years later, Antonio continues to live in pain and in fear, his life and his relationships in shambles because of it. Reading a news story rekindles a fire in his memory about the day Laverde was killed, and stokes Antonio's need to understand why. This need leads him on a journey to a young beekeeper in the Colombian countryside, who helps answer some of his questions about who Laverde was and why he was killed, but there are still questions that remain unanswered, both about Laverde as well as Antonio's country.

This book wasn't quite what I expected given how it began. I thought it was beautifully written and very well-translated, and the story was very compelling, with some scenes of immense emotional power. I really liked the characters and found them complex and tremendously intriguing. However, I felt as if the book spent more time than necessary on Laverde's family history, and while the story of his relationship with his wife was lovely to read, I wanted the book to devote more time to Antonio and his search for answers, as it left me with more questions than resolution. I also felt that the book meandered a bit too much, and never quite got back on course.

Life is never simple, and sometimes trying to unravel a mystery leaves us with more questions than answers. The Sound of Things Falling is a poetic look at the mysteries of life and a lamenting reminiscence of a country with a rich history and a troubling legacy of violence. It's imperfect, but pretty powerful.

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